HOLMEN, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – Calls for emergency service are going up in the Holmen area, but staffing shortages at the fire department are impacting effective responses. First News at Nine’s Alex Loroff looks at a new partnership being formed to address the issue.
Rapid growth in the Holmen area may lead to some changes in emergency services. The Holmen Area Fire Department recently took part in a regional fire study.
The study found calls for service for Holmen Fire saw a 28% increase from 2016 to 2019.
The increase in calls has put a strain on Holmen’s staff, which is made up of five full-time and ten part-time firefighters.
“Fires demand a lot of personnel in a rapid fashion,” Holmen Village President and Fire Board member Patrick Barlow said. “What we’ve noticed over time is that in our ability to have a sufficient staffing response, we often struggle.”
Barlow says that’s one reason why a shared service plan with the La Crosse Fire Department is being discussed.
La Crosse Fire Chief Ken Gilliam says the department has similar agreements in the Coulee region and they’re becoming more common across the state.
“More regional fire and EMS districts are becoming a little bit more of the norm as communities really look at what we’re looking at right now, is there a way to increase services for everyone involved by joining together,” Gilliam detailed.
Discussions are still in the early phases and Barlow says there are many items to consider when entering into a shared service agreement.
“There are questions and issues to be addressed like the identity of the department, what name is on the trucks, what to do with our paid part-time firefighters…and how to make sure all those assurances are made that both parties are satisfied,” Barlow listed.
Gilliam says there’s also another hurdle: past political disagreements between the communities.
“These communities have worked well on certain issues and there’s certainly been differing agreements on other issues,” Gilliam said. “I’m hoping that we can keep the dialogue isolated to public safety matters and not bring any baggage from previous failed attempts at things.”
Evan though both are optimistic, Barlow says there will be chances to back out if an agreement can’t be reached.
“I think I’m moving into this trying to be open-minded, supportive, making sure all entities have enough information to make a good decision,” Barlow said. “But if something does not make sense or doesn’t seem feasible for a number of reasons, we can pause.”
Gilliam believes it will take about 6-12 months for a proposal to be ready.
In La Crosse, Alex Loroff, First News at Nine.
Holmen Fire Chief William Manley has been placed on leave pending the shared service discussions. Fire coverage is being coordinated by department firefighters and existing regional agreements.