Janesville51.3°

Study: Fire station out of date

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Stacy Vogel
September 23, 2008

Lynda Clark has believed for a long time that the Milton Joint Fire Department needs a new station.


Now that a professional study has confirmed her opinion, she hopes the rest of Milton believes it, too.


"What we've squeaked by with before, obviously from the study, it's not going to be enough," Clark, a Milton Joint Fire Commission member, said. "We have to be serious about (a new station), and it's time."


A draft report from consulting firm Virchow Krause suggested the commission hire an architectural firm to study the station and options to remodel or replace it. The fire commission discussed the draft at its meeting Wednesday.


The commission agreed in May to pay Virchow Krause $21,000 for an organizational study of the fire department. The professional study was recommended by a task force that looked at short-term issues facing the department in 2006 and 2007.


Several of Virchow Krause's suggestions echo the task force's report. Both studies recommended creating a vehicle replacement fund and offering more incentives to recruit and retain paid-on-call, also known as volunteer, firefighters.


Currently, volunteers are paid for training and when they respond to emergencies. But they're required to be on call for one weekend shift a month, and volunteers who live outside the city must stay at the fire station during that time. The study proposes paying those volunteers a small stipend, such as $1 an hour, to stay at the station.


Chief Loren Lippincott included the vehicle replacement fund and the stipend for on-call time in his proposed 2008 budget, but they eventually were cut to limit expenditures.


The department's equipment isn't the only thing aging. The study found Milton's fire station to be inadequate for the department. According to the report, the station's shortfalls include:


-- A lack of living area for staff staying overnight, including separate showers, sleeping areas and lockers for women.


-- Minimal storage and working space that forces staff to store clean and dirty medical supplies together.


-- A lack of a fire alarm system.


Clark said she hopes the study convinces the commission to look at options for a new or remodeled fire department and convinces the residents that it's worth the money.


"I don't want to see taxes go up any more than anyone else does, but I do expect certain services," she said. "I don't expect the firefighters to not be in a building that is safe for themselves."


NOT EVERYTHING WILL CHANGE

A professional study of the Milton Joint Fire Department by Virchow Krause recommends keeping the status quo on two controversial issues.


The draft report recommends against:


-- Moving to a full-time department.


-- Changing the department's governance and funding structure.


Chief Loren Lippincott as part of a task force study in 2007 proposed converting the department—which only employs paid, part-time staff members during weekdays—to a full-time, professional department by 2011.


But the Virchow Krause study says Milton doesn't have the population or the need for a professional department. The department responds to an average of 1.2 emergency medical calls per day and less than one fire or other emergency incident per day, the study found.


The study also recommends keeping the department's 50/50 governance and funding structure. Three city officials and three town officials sit on the department's commission. The city and town each pay 50 percent of the department's costs.


Some town officials have said the funding structure is unfair because the city has more residents, property value and calls for service than the township.


But city officials have said the department responds to different types of calls in the township that might take longer and/or cost more than city calls.


Virchow Krause didn't study type or length of calls.


The study recommends keeping the commission and funding structures the same in the short term because they're easy to understand and create a sense of equal ownership in the city and township.


Commission member David Adams, a Milton city councilman, agreed.


"I don't know that we can, as a city, maintain the quality of fire department that we have without the 50/50 funding split we have with the township," he said. "And the reverse: The township couldn't maintain the quality of service without the city."


The city and town of Milton divide fire department costs equally. But the Virchow Krause study determined how much each municipality would have paid in 2008 based on property value, population and calls for service.

2008 Fire cost (equal share)


City of Milton


$173,400


Town of Milton


$173,400


Distribution based on equalized value


City of Milton


$194,902


Town of Milton


$151,898


Distribution based on population


City of Milton


$226,460


Town of Milton


$120,340


Distribution based on calls for service


City of Milton


$243,454


Town of Milton


$103,346



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