County may come to the rescue of short-handed EMS units

Sheriff is working on plan to direct Covid-19 relief funds to departments in need of paramedics
Ozaukee Press staff

Sheriff Jim Johnson said Tuesday he is working on a proposal to help ease the shortage of paramedics in Ozaukee County by using county funds to help hire them.

He said he has been talking to the county’s fire chiefs trying to formulate a plan as well as local municipal leaders as they struggle to find enough paramedics to staff their ambulance services.

“I told them I would help them,” Johnson said, noting that the need for paramedics impacts everyone in the county.

“There are a lot of fire departments hurting. Law enforcement is noticing it’s taking a while to get medical personnel on the scene (of accidents and incidents).”

Johnson said he is eyeing a portion of the money Ozaukee County received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to fund his proposal, noting it would ultimately require County Board approval.

The proposal, he added, is in its formative stages yet.

“There’s no money promised,” he said, noting that while he has talked about the plan with County Administrator Jason Dzwinel he has not shared it with county supervisors.

“It’s not ready for action,” Johnson said. “It’ll take some time yet.”

Noting that there are several proposals being looked at, he said he’s waiting for the fire chiefs and administrators to get back to him with an idea of what they need and how much it will cost.

“We’re waiting to hear what they want to do,” Johnson said. “I’m not a firefighter. I’m not a medical person, but I’m willing to be the voice for the fire chiefs to ask the County Board for help.”

Johnson acknowledged that whatever plan is put forth won’t be the ultimate answer to the problem.

“There needs to be a long-term plan,” he said. “But we have a need now. Let’s put a Band-Aid on while we come up with that long-term plan.

“The ultimate goal is to make sure our citizens have the services they need. What that looks like in the end remains to be seen.”

Port Washington City Administrator Tony Brown, a spokesman for the municipal officials considering a shared-services plan for the county, said it’s too early to comment on Johnson’s plan.

“It’s a very generous offer the sheriff put forward,” Brown said, but there isn’t a solid plan to be considered yet.

“There are still a lot of pieces to be put forward before we know where the communities stand,” he said, noting the fire chiefs have put together a roughly sketched out plan for operations that hasn’t been heard by the municipal administrators.

He said administrators want to be sure whatever plan is put forward is sustainable. adding, “The ultimate goal has always been to find a way to decrease response times.”

The county’s proposal came to light Monday night as the Port Washington Police and Fire Commission, which has been struggling with finding enough paramedics to staff its ambulance around the clock, discussed the fact that the proposed 2022 City of Port Washington budget does not include funding for a third full-time firefighter/paramedic — a position that would allow Fire Chief Mark Mitchell to ensure there is a paramedic available throughout the day and night.

Commission Chairman Rick Nelson, who is also a county supervisor and a member of the county’s Public Safety Committee, told the committee that city officials should talk to Johnson, who said he would help fund the position if the city said it needed it.

“That’s all in limbo,” Mitchell said. “The administrators are mulling that over.”

One concern, he said, is sustainability since the county’s funding would run out in a couple of years.

But Nelson said the need is immediate.

“I think we ought to get the paramedic and then worry about sustainability,” he said. “They worry too much about the future. This is too important not to be pro-active.”  

Commission members, who have asked for the third position for years, expressed frustration that despite the proven need for the third firefighter/paramedic position, it was not funded.

“I think a community such as Port Washington deserves to have the proper paramedic service, 24/7, 365,” commission member Jim Biever said. “It’s such an essential service. If I were a citizen of Port, I’d want to know somebody was there if I call in an emergency.

“I think the city really has to find a way to fund this. Maybe we have to cut back buying a dump truck or cutting the hours at the library. I think this is that important.”

He urged commission members to contact their aldermen ahead of Tuesday’s 2022 budget hearing to advocate for the funding and position.

The commission, which could not take action on the issue because it was not on the agenda, informally agreed to urge the council to fund the position.

Mitchell said the lack of medical responders often keeps him up at night.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. 

The city is contemplating funding the second phase of a shared-services study, Mitchell said, “meanwhile I’m trying to slap together a crew everyday.”

On Sunday, he noted, the city didn’t have a paramedic on call until 6 p.m. On Monday, there was a paramedic from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., and on Tuesday there wasn’t a paramedic on the schedule until 6 p.m.  

The city is able to staff the position full-time every third day, Mitchell said, when his full-time firefighter/paramedic is on duty. 

But, he said, “If I’ve got to wait for an ambulance to come out of another community (to answer a call in Port) that’s dire to me,” Mitchell said. 

The department staff is stretched thin, he said, but relief is needed. 

Last December, the city authorized the department to have two full-time firefighter/paramedics, but Mitchell has struggled to fill the second of these two positions, in part because of the wages offered by the city. 

However, Mitchell said Monday he expects to fill that spot by the beginning of the year, and he noted that he has three EMTs who are starting paramedic school next year.

“There’s talent out there,” he said. “The competitive wages are the thing.”


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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