KAUKAUNA — Kaukauna Fire Chief Jake Carrel, along with four other Fox Valley fire departments, have enlisted the Wisconsin Policy Forum to help them consider options for enhanced collaboration or new service sharing arrangements.
The report presents options that would allow the departments to “start small” and build over time toward more comprehensive collaborations.
On the other end of the spectrum, should the five departments and their respective municipalities ultimately wish to “go big,” then they might consider a single Fox Valley Fire Resources Bureau to regionalize the large array of support or specialized services addressed in this report.
The new report responds to a request covering a range of service sharing options for fire departments serving Kaukauna, Appleton, Grand Chute, Neenah-Menasha and Oshkosh.
Fire and emergency medical service agencies across Wisconsin are facing intensifying fiscal and service-level challenges that are threatening existing service models and prompting consideration of new approaches.
These challenges stem, in part, from the strict property tax levy limits facing Wisconsin municipalities as well as growing costs associated with increased calls for service.
Escalating staff recruitment and retention barriers stemming from the state’s tight labor market and extra demands created by the pandemic also have exacerbated the challenges for many departments.
Amid mounting service demands and an already strong cooperative spirit, fire and emergency medical service agencies in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley could benefit further from enhanced collaboration in areas including training, special operations, community risk reduction, fleet maintenance, and EMS quality control and oversight.
In consultation with the chiefs, the Wisconsin Policy Forum analysis focused on five specific areas of fire department operations that may hold potential to pursue even greater levels of collaboration in the future:
- Training: Each of the five departments has a designated training officer, all of whom currently collaborate. The Wisconsin Policy Forum analysis finds an opportunity to formalize that collaboration through a cooperative agreement that might, for example, divide responsibility for types of training on specific areas between these officers, who would then coordinate it on a regional basis. The Wisconsin Policy Forum also modeled options for a more comprehensive merger of training functions: a Regional Training Bureau, which would employ a small staff to address regional issues such as standardizing protocols and procedures (SOPs; or a Regional Training Office — a more comprehensive model that would assume much responsibility for training functions for participating departments.
- Special operations: All five departments have special operations capabilities in areas like hazardous materials response, water rescues, confined space and trench rescues, or structural collapses. The Wisconsin Policy Forum explored a cooperative model of special operations rather than more formal consolidation in which each department would maintain some of its own special operations responsibilities, but one might be tapped to be the designated response team for one or two types of special operations while receiving service from other departments for the
- Community risk reduction: These activities, conducted by all five departments, include fire code inspections, fire investigations, and public education on fire safety and general health and safety issues. Fire investigations could be considered for regional collaboration given that investigations are relatively infrequent and require specialized staff. A regional approach involving a new bureau to conduct repeat or complex inspections and investigations might be considered. Community risk reduction activities also could be incorporated into the new bureau, including development of common education curricula and materials, shared instructors and equipment for community programs, or a shared public information officer.
- Fleet maintenance: Fleet maintenance activities include regular or scheduled maintenance, emergency repairs, and testing of pumps, hoses, and other equipment. The Wisconsin Policy Forum discussions with the chiefs and fleet personnel found that a stand-alone garage serving the five fire departments could yield benefits but may be overly expensive. Other potential collaboration options include the possibility of expanding the capacity of the Neenah-Menasha department to handle fleet maintenance for some of the other departments. A shared reserve fleet also could be a first step towards greater collaboration in this area.
- Quality control and oversight: While differences between these five departments in EMS service levels and models make collaboration less practical here than for other functions, there are some potential steps that could be taken. Those include the sharing of data collection and analysis; consolidating medical direction; and agreeing to a common set of EMS protocols that could help to lay the foundation for a regional EMS system. The Wisconsin Policy Forum suggesteed a possible next step would be a formal intergovernmental agreement that would guide the creation and activities of a regional EMS committee to oversee quality and coordination.
The Wisconsin Policy Forum analysis found several potential opportunities to build on the strong framework of collaboration and cooperation that currently exists between these five departments. However, as was the case
with many of the previous fire and EMS service sharing studies the Wisconsin Policy Forum have conducted, these opportunities are geared more toward enhancing the quality of service than reducing fire department expenditures.