Current fire department staffing levels in Ozaukee County are not sustainable, report says - 2

Grafton fire personnel remove the roof of a car in an extraction demonstration at their 2019 fire safety day.

GRAFTON — A joint southern Ozaukee County fire and EMS department has already been created, and now a group of communities in the county’s central section will begin discussions about consolidating their operations.

The communities that oversee the Grafton, Cedarburg, Saukville and Port Washington fire departments will all consider signing a memorandum of understanding in the coming weeks, with the villages of Grafton and Saukville and the city of Port Washington taking it up this week.

The MOU would not create a joint department, but establish a joint working group to explore consolidation topics including governance, administration and management, finances, staffing, equipment, training, facilities, medical direction, emergency dispatch, response times and future growth and needs.

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Volunteer fire departments have long been a point of great pride among communities in the county, but years of shifting labor markets, demographics and other dynamics have depleted the number of volunteer members.

A Wisconsin Policy Forum report issued in the spring of 2021 warned that the current system of volunteer and paid-on-call members is not sustainable, a fact local departments have seen firsthand, with longer response times and a reliance on other departments to answer calls.

Joining resources to hire fulltime EMTs, paramedics and firefighters is seen as a way to address current and future fiscal challenges that stand in the way of providing effective and efficient Fire & EMS Services, including budget considerations and staffing constraints.

There is also an fiscal advantage to consolidation. Funds available from the county provide a $100,000 grant for each municipality developing a regional application and $300,000 grants for three or more municipalities.

Last month, the village of Thiensville and city of Mequon approved creating the Southern Ozaukee Joint Fire & Emergency Medical Services Department. They are still working through issues such facilities, equipment and budgeting, but the agreement shows the consolidated department will have at least nine fulltime firefighter-paramedics by 2025.

Mequon and Thiensville currently have a MOU with Cedarburg to study if the city and town would benefit by joining the joint M-T fire department.

The city of Cedarburg will consider the MOU with the other three departments at its meeting on Monday.

“The important thing is that we are looking at all of our options to provide the best quality service to our residents,” said Cedarburg City Administrator Mikko Hilvo.

The agreement to study a central consolidated fire department needs to be approved by the town and village of Grafton, town and city of Cedarburg, town and village of Saukville and the town and city of Port Washington.

The Grafton Village Board took up the MOU Monday evening, after the News Graphic deadline. The Port Washington Common Council will discuss it at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. today and the Saukville Village Board at 7 p.m. today.

The town governments of Cedarburg, Grafton, Saukville and Port Washington will also have to approve an MOU when they meet next.