Grafton begins considering fire service options

Fire chief urges village to ‘push forward’ in response to study calling for county departments to collaborate
Ozaukee Press Staff

A recent study of Ozaukee County fire departments concluded Grafton’s reliance on volunteers and paid-on-call fire and emergency services is no longer viable to meet the needs of the community.

“I feel our fire departments have evolved rapidly over the last five to 10 years, and our communities have failed to keep up with those changes,” Grafton Fire Chief Bill Rice said.

“I think (the study) is a step in the right direction. I also believe it displays the low per-capita spending on fire and EMS in our county, which is now affecting our ability to provide services.”

The study conducted by the Wisconsin Policy Forum — which examined call volumes, budgets, staffing and other factors — comes as a shortage of paramedics and other emergency medical staff has reached crisis proportions, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, and the cost of vehicles and equipment has skyrocketed, Rob Henken of the Policy Forum said.


The study, which was released last month, was presented to the Grafton Village Board on Monday, April 5. The report makes no recommendations but offers six options, each of which include increasing the number of paid, full-time staff and greater “intergovernmental cooperation,” up to the full consolidation of existing departments.

The study cost $23,500, which was paid for by nine municipalities. It suggests six options, grouped into three tiers:

• The first tier calls for departments to work collaboratively but retain their independence. That would include departments pooling resources to hire full-time paramedics and strategically place them around the county at an annual per capita cost of $16.02, or creating full-time firefighter shifts at some stations to handle anticipated higher call volumes at a cost of $29.98.

•  The second tier calls for consolidating some departments at an estimated per-capita cost of $33.99 or creating two regional — north and south — departments at a cost of $54.73 per capita.

• The third, and most expensive, tier would create a single countywide department, with one option calling for higher administration levels, costing $88.86 per capita annually. A scenario with less administration is estimated to cost $42.24.

“It’s important for the public to understand the Village of Grafton is interested in working with our neighbors to find a better solution,” Rice, who is also handling administrative duties for the Village of Saukville Fire Department, said.

“Saukville is not hung up on traditional means of how fire services are run.”

According to the study, Ozaukee fire departments collectively saw a 23.5% increase in calls from 2015 to 2019 caused by an aging, but growing, population, and economic growth and development.

Saukville saw a 33.9% rise in calls, followed by Port Washington at 31%; Grafton at 30.1%; Mequon at 21.2%; Thiensville at 14.8%; and Cedarburg at 13.1%.

Total response times vary from department to department based on geography and  the number of full-time, on-site staff.

Among county departments, response times ranged from seven minutes for emergency medical service calls and nine minutes for fire calls for the Grafton Fire Department, which has five full-time staff, to 14.4 minutes for EMS calls and 17.8 minutes for fire calls for the Waubeka Fire Department, which relies exclusively on volunteers.

About 80% of all calls countywide are EMS calls, the study states.

Current net per-capita spending levels are comparable between Saukville, Fredonia, Waubeka and Belgium, ranging from about $35 to about $42. The cost per capita in Mequon and Grafton, which have more full-time staff than other departments, is comparable to the northern communities at $52 and $53, respectively.

Departments in Port Washington and Cedarburg have the lowest costs at $8.07 and $8.86, respectively, while Thiensville has the highest cost at $84.49.

 The additional investment by municipalities to implement the study’s options would range from $1.45 million to supplement services with full-time paramedics to $7.86 million to create one countywide fire service.

Officials said  federal grants are available to help fund consolidation efforts, but there is no timeline for taking action on the study.

“We want to keep moving. This isn’t something we are going to put on the back burner to address a year from now,” Rice said.

“We want to push forward to find a good solution.”



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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.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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