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Savings Possible Without Full Fire Consolidation, Forum President Says

Public Policy Forum President Rob Henken spoke to the Oak Creek Common Council on Tuesday about his organization's report regarding fire department consolidation in southern Milwaukee County.

Southern Milwaukee County communities leery about combining fire departments could still benefit from smaller changes that would increase efficiencies and save money.

That was one message Public Policy Forum President Rob Henken conveyed when he spoke Tuesday to the Oak Creek Common Council. It was an in-depth look at the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization's within the Oak Creek, Franklin, Hales Corners, Greendale and Greenfield fire departments.

Henken noted the communities already practice a lot of mutual aid, not only in responding to incidents but in training, communications and some purchasing.

But there could be more.

The Public Policy Forum found the vehicle fleet between the five departments, in particular, could be reduced. The departments could save roughly $3 million over the next five years if they did not follow the current vehicle replacement plan. 

The organization looked at many aspects of the departments, such as training and operating under a closest-station-responds model, and found there could be greater efficiency and cost savings.

But Henken also recognized that any change comes with drawbacks. Even consolidating in a few areas, like training, may be difficult given the fire departments all operate by their own philosophies and procedures.

Each community also has its unique challenges. In Oak Creek, the We Energies power plant operates like a city of its own. It would be a tough task to cross-train fire personnel to assist there or at other Oak Creek industrial facilities like , Alderman Dan Bukiewicz said.

"It's kind of apples-to-oranges comparing it, when it comes to protection services that our people are actually providing" vs. fire departments in the other communities involved with the study, he said.

Henken said he has heard concerns from officials in some communities, including Greendale and Hales Corners, who feel they would be negatively impacted by consolidation.

Ultimately, each community has to ask itself how much the financial savings are worth any changes, he said.

Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi said the study was a good step toward finding solutions to municipalities' ongoing budget struggles.

"When public safety's involved, it's a challenge that's outside of just the cost associated with it," Scaffidi said. "It's a difficult subject but it's one we're not going to get anywhere if we don't start looking at it."

seriously? July 20, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Would like to hear more about equipment consolidation. Do we really need a large fire truck, complete with full crew, for every single little fender bender that occurs? What exactly are they planning to hose down? Any oil or other fluid from the car is collected by spreading absorbant material (similar to using kitty litter to absorb spills on your garage floor) and then sweeping it into a container and disposing it. Is this what they're there for? Do we need an entire truck and crew to sweep up something any reasonably trained individual with a pickup truck could do? Wouldn't we be more safe if the fire truck and its crew were at the station, located centrally for a purpose and response time, ready to respond to a genuine fire instead of out sitting at a fender bender?
Eric Robertson July 20, 2012 at 11:15 PM
Curious how WE Energies and PPG result in a unique type of service being provided to the citizens of Oak Creek. I believe all of Oak Creek's neighboring fire departments respond to and help fight fires at PPG and WE Energies when they occur. Shouldn't they all have received the special training if they have to come fight the fires too? What special service is it that Oak Creek is providing that is not the same as the neighboring, potential consolidation partners are providing? Would those other firefighters not be able to be trained to this special level?

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