Western Lakes Fire District faces staffing challenges, seeks community input on funding options for fire services

In March, WLFD released an options assessment detailing the staffing challenges faced by the District, the identified solutions and potential options for municipalities served by the District to provide necessary funding.

 

The options assessment cites increased calls for services, a growing population and decreased availability of local paid-on-call firefighters as putting a significant strain on WLFD, resulting in increased response times that put residents at risk and increase losses due to fire. Key to WLFD’s challenge is insufficient in-station staffing to respond to calls. Currently, in-station staff must wait for paid-on-call staff to arrive before responding to the vast majority of fire calls that come in, at a time when the number of available paid-on-call staff continues to decline.

Survey will soon be mailed to households throughout the District

WLFD is seeking community feedback as it works to evaluate funding options to ensure sustainable staffing and increase wages to bring fire and EMS capabilities in line with industry standards and best practices, as dictated by the demands, size, makeup and population of the communities served by the District.

The surveys ask community members to provide input on the following options for funding staffing and wage increases:

  1. Raise additional revenue through a wheel tax, or
  2. Raise additional revenue through increased property tax levy via referendum

How to Complete the Survey

Surveys will arrive in residents’ mailboxes during the week of April 4 and may be completed online or on paper through April 17:

  • Online: Log on to www.survey2000.com and enter the survey access number printed on the survey received by mail. Residents are encouraged to take the survey online to reduce handling costs.
  • Paper: Complete the hard copy survey received by mail and return it in the provided postage-paid envelope to Community Perceptions: PO Box 607, Slinger, WI 53086.

Each survey code can be used only once. To obtain a second survey for another adult in your household, please call (262) 214-1055. Residents will be asked to leave a detailed message with their information, and an additional code will be provided.

WLFD is working with independent survey administrator, Community Perceptions. Final survey results will be reported at a WLFD Board Meeting meeting later this spring and will also be available on the WLFD website.

Staffing Challenges threaten WLFD, Departments across Wisconsin

WLFD’s decreased resident paid-on-call staffing is in line with the experiences of fire departments across the region, state and nation as a downward trend in available paid-on-call staff has reached an all-time low. Over the last three decades this decline has been seen across the region. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, volunteer fire departments had waiting lists for residents to join the departments. By the early 2000’s these waiting lists had gone by the wayside, and rosters were beginning to decline. Heading into 2010, departments had to actively campaign for volunteers, paid-on-call, and part-time employees. Today, departments locally and across the state are in need of help with staffing and funding. This decline in staffing, along with increased call volume, has greatly impacted service levels.

Additionally, challenges tied to staff recruitment and retention have impacted WLFD. Every year, WLFD loses an average of 40 part-time staff members, largely due to higher-paying job opportunities, including with other fire departments, or other hourly job opportunities in the community. WLFD’s part-time firefighter and EMS staff are currently paid $14 an hour. For comparison, a part-time hourly salary at local convenience stores range from $15-$20 an hour.

Department leaders and municipal staff from communities served by WLFD have assessed community needs and concluded the following measures are necessary to bring fire and EMS capabilities in line with industry standards and best practices, as dictated by the demands, size, makeup and population of the community:

  1. Fund additional staff, including:
    • 33 additional full-time firefighter / paramedics (11 per shift spread across the WLFD footprint);
    • 3 additional Battalion Chiefs (one per shift);
    • 15 internship positions (positions are not new, but new Department of Labor regulations require that intern positions be paid positions);
    • 1 full-time administrative assistant; and
    • 1 additional fire inspector.
  2. Maintain current staff by increasing wages to avoid staff departures to other departments, be competitive in the market and enhance staff recruitment and retention.

Improving WLFD’s staff and increasing wages would require an additional $6.3 million provided by the communities that receive WLFD fire services, based on a funding formula that accounts for a community’s calls for service, population, the value of their facilities and land value.

If you have questions or feedback, please contact info@westernlakesfd.org.