Providing full-time paramedic service no small task

Fredonia, Belgium, Waubeka leaders have work to do to create joint EMS department, Towns Association leader says
Ozaukee Press staff

Three fire departments and four communities in northern Ozaukee County have their work cut out for them in forming an emergency medical services coalition.

Wisconsin Towns Association Executive Director Mike Koles last week went over  an 11-point list detailing just how difficult that work might be.

Many areas of the state are working to combine services as the pool of volunteer firefighter/paramedics is drying up and even paid employees are harder to find than before. The crisis comes at a time when medical calls are on the rise.

The towns and villages of Fredonia and Belgium, along with the Fredonia, Belgium and Waubeka fire departments, are collaborating to offer 24/7 medical service with help from an $878,000 Ozaukee County grant using American Rescue Plan Act money.  The funds run out on Jan. 1, 2026.

The first step in collaboration, Koles said, is to determine the department’s service level.

Fredonia Fire Chief Brian Weyker said the goal is to have a paramedic respond to calls immediately and start treating patients before the ambulance arrives. The plan is to hire three full-time firefighter/paramedics to supplement volunteers.

Koles said the department must then determine the desired response time.

“We want to be under eight minutes. That’s the state standard,” Weyker said.

Koles was impressed. “We have response times that are five times that,” he said, adding southwest Portage County responds in 37 minutes.

Determining the future of each fire department’s stations can be a sticking point. Belgium, Waubeka and Fredonia each have stations. The plan is to keep each one open as long as the volunteer base supports it, Belgium Town Chairman Tom Winker said.

Combining the three could be complicated by their status. The Belgium and Waubeka departments are private, nonprofit organizations while Fredonia’s is part of the village.

Municipal departments have an advantage, Koles said, since they can offer Wisconsin Retirement System benefits, which is a big attraction for workers and can make a department more competitive in the hiring marketplace. Nonprofits rarely offer WRS benefits.

Koles also said it’s important to clearly determine who owns the entity and how maintenance costs are split.

“There’s no magical way to do this,” he said.

What equipment the department needs and which department’s will be used can also cause fights, Koles said.

Fredonia has a 2018 ambulance and 2004 first responder unit. Waubeka has a 2006 ambulance. Belgium is waiting on a new rescue squad to replace its 2000 model.

Determining the leadership of the department often creates issues, Koles said.

“That can be a touchy one,” he said.

Figuring out a funding formula is another challenge. It’s often a set amount per capita, but call volume and the number of households in each community could be taken into account.

Officials are hoping to get help from the state. Fees for fire department funding may be set outside of tax levies, but not money for EMS. Changing that will be one of the Towns Association’s legislative priorities, Koles said, and other organizations are on board to lobby lawmakers.

Koles and Winker said the state’s multi- billion-dollar surplus should be put toward EMS under the guise of public safety.

Asking Ozaukee County for more money isn’t off the table either. The northern Ozaukee County group would like to tap into the county’s annual sales tax revenue, but Winker said county officials are against that plan.

Running the group’s intergovernmental agreement by an attorney is a must, everyone agreed, but which one is yet to be determined. Each municipality contracts with a different firm.

Picking a name for the new unit is also important, Koles said.

“I’ve seen groups fall apart because they can’t get a name,” he said.

The county grant requires a sustainability plan to be submitted by May 1. The group is collecting similar agreements from across the state, including Mequon and Thiensville, to use as examples.

That timetable makes state funding a secondary option, the group said.

Fredonia Village Administrator Christophe Jenkins said he and Weyker will create a draft document. The group’s next meeting is 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31, at Belgium Town Hall.



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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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