Wis. city FD and volunteer rescue squad to merge

Facing dwindling numbers of volunteer emergency medical technicians and an increased number of calls, the two entities will work to combine operations


Jonathon Sadowski
The Journal Times, Racine, Wis.

BURLINGTON, Wis. — The City of Burlington Fire Department and Burlington Rescue Squad have begun negotiations for a merger, the city and rescue squad jointly announced Thursday.

Facing dwindling numbers of volunteer emergency medical technicians and an increased number of calls, the two entities will work to combine operations while the Fire Department upgrades from a first-responder department to an advanced EMT department to match Burlington Rescue’s current level of service training, according to a press release.

Facing dwindling numbers of volunteer emergency medical technicians and an increased number of calls, the two entities will work to combine operations. (Photo/Burlington Rescue Squad)
Facing dwindling numbers of volunteer emergency medical technicians and an increased number of calls, the two entities will work to combine operations. (Photo/Burlington Rescue Squad)

There is no set date for the merger yet because negotiations have just begun.

“These talks are a preliminary step to ensuring the safety and viable future of EMS and fire services in our community,” Burlington Rescue Chief Brian Zwiebel said in the release.

The all-volunteer Burlington Rescue Squad has covered both the Town and City of Burlington since 1946 and currently responds to almost 1,600 calls per year. There are currently about 20 volunteers on the squad.

The Rescue Squad is a private organization run under the auspices of the Burlington Rotary Club. No tax dollars go directly to the organization, although the Rescue Squad has long shared quarters with the city Fire Department at 165 Washington St.

Even with the Rescue Squad merging with the city Fire Department, ambulance service for the Town of Burlington is expected to remain the same as the Fire Department upgrades to A-EMT service. Mayor Jeannie Hefty has spoken with Town Chairman Ralph Rice and has assured him the town will continue to be serviced in the same manner through any combination of A-EMT service.

Since 2017, city firefighters have responded with Rescue Squad crews to EMS calls in the city. Because the Fire Department is staffed with full-time personnel, that arrangement often allowed patients to receive more immediate care while the Rescue Squad volunteers made their way to the scene.

Last year, the Rescue Squad for the first time began hiring temporary workers to help fill time slots to address staffing shortages.

The Rescue Squad for many years has also provided extrication service for crashes and other types of rescues. But partly due to the demands on the volunteer rescue squad, the Town of Burlington Fire Department in recent years has learned extrication skills and equipped several of its trucks with extrication tools.

A positive move

Hefty retired from the Rescue Squad last August after spending 20 years with the squad over the course of 45 years. She said the merger is a positive move for the area.

“This isn’t a takeover,” Hefty said. “This is trying to recognize the volunteerism in our area.”

As the Burlington area grows — not just related to the Foxconn Technology Group development in Mount Pleasant, but with new housing and senior living and commercial developments coming — area first responders will have more and more responsibilities, Hefty said.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” she said. In the future as the departments are stressed further, Hefty added, she could see the city and Town of Burlington fire departments merging with the neighboring Rochester Fire Company to form a fire district. Already, the entities assist each other on a regular basis.

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©2019 The Journal Times, Racine, Wisc.

 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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