Milton’s outdated fire station has sparked a lot of discussion about how to serve the fire district’s 90 square miles, but a firm plan for the future remains hazy.
The man in charge of prodding the process along sees no reason to panic, however.
Randy Banker, fire chief for Janesville and Milton, is developing a process to generate estimates on several options, including a new or renovated fire station, a new station shared with Janesville or a combination of the two. They will be part of Banker’s report, which the Milton Joint Fire Commission can use to plan for a new station.
However, the commission did not give Banker authority or money to hire a consultant for the report, he said, so he must try to get information and estimates for free.
“Without the ability to hire a consultant, they (consultants) are going to limit their amount of time and effort they want to put toward us,” Banker said. “But I have been involved in multiple buildings of fire stations and various things, so I have an idea of a direction we can go.”
The Milton and Janesville fire departments began sharing administrative resources last October, making Banker the chief for both departments.
The two departments have been sharing fire services since February 2016, and an intergovernmental agreement expanded that in early 2017. Since then, response times have improved for both communities.
At issue is the fire station. Janesville needs a fire station on the north side, and Milton has outgrown its old station. The communities could share a new station, but town of Milton representatives have expressed concern that the proposed site is too far from the northern end of Milton’s fire district.
In August, the joint fire commission asked Banker to provide plans for four options for a new station, including cost estimates. The commission gave him six months to generate a report.
The four options include:
- Renovating or replacing the fire station at its current location.
- Building a shared fire station with the Janesville Fire Department on the north side of Janesville and maintaining the existing station as a secondary station.
- Building a new fire station on a new parcel of land within the Milton fire district.
- Building a shared station with the Janesville Fire Department on Janesville’s north side and building a secondary station on a new parcel of land in the Milton fire district.
Those options are just a part of the process, said Banker, who wants more direction from the commission.
“We are waiting on the commission,” he said. “... I can build fire stations all day long, but it is what you (the commission and community) want for the direction of the department.”
At a recent council meeting, Milton City Administrator Al Hulick said he doesn’t know what to tell residents when they ask him about the status of the fire station because it is unclear what the commission wants.
The commission still has a lot to discuss, member Lynda Clark said. Important questions yet to be answered include how much the commission is willing to pay for a station and what share each municipality—Janesville, Milton and various towns—will pay.
“First and foremost, we need to decide if our public safety protection will be based on cost or service,” Clark said.
The commission did not ask Banker to create a report on staffing of future stations. However, he said he likely will include his personal recommendations for staffing for each option.
“... Firetrucks and fire stations do not reduce response times; people do,” Banker said.
“Somehow we have to be able to have people to respond to these incidents and reduce our response times.”
Moving forward, Banker said he wants agendas created for discussions so everyone understands what needs to be accomplished.
Clark urges residents to contact commission members to discuss the kinds of fire services they want.
“The time has come where people have to seriously take a look at fire and EMS services because it is not going to be the way that it was,” Clark said. “It is never going to be the way that it was.”