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This should be an easy decision for Milton and town of Milton officials.

If they care about the pocketbooks and safety of their residents, they should choose to consolidate their fire department with the Janesville Fire Department.

That’s one of two options Fire Chief Ernie Rhodes and Milton Finance Director Dan Nelson presented to the Joint Fire Commission on Wednesday night. The other option—Milton going its own way with its own fire department—would be more expensive.

We’ve made no secret that we favor consolidation of fire services countywide and view the Janesville and Milton departments merging as the next logical step in that direction.

Janesville, Milton and the town of Milton have shared fire services since February 2016, and under a memorandum of understanding, the Janesville fire chief, Rhodes, also serves as the Milton fire chief. But Milton has struggled to find enough paid-on-call or paid-on-premises firefighters to staff its equipment.

The solution is staffing with full-time firefighters.

“It’s not because the paid-on-call are not good, it’s just because volunteerism across the nation is just eroding,” Rhodes told The Gazette.

Full-time staffing is the recommendation in both options presented Wednesday night, but under the consolidation option it would cost less—$2.4 million versus $2.73 million. It’s a no-brainer, and consolidation is the future.

Rock County fire departments have been taking steps in that direction. In January, the Janesville, Milton, Beloit and town of Beloit fire departments agreed to dispatch emergency vehicles based on geography, not on jurisdiction. That allows a town of Beloit ambulance to be dispatched first to a city of Beloit emergency, for example.

Rhodes said he’s had conversations with the city of Beloit and town of Beloit fire chiefs about next steps.

“I think we’re all three open to merging or some sort of shared services agreement to increase our ability to serve our citizens,” Rhodes said.

He hopes Milton chooses the consolidation option.

“I think that’s our future. I think across the country you’re seeing a lot of consolidations, and I believe in that. I support that,” Rhodes said.

“I’m hopeful that they decide on consolidation. That is how we’re going to shape the future of the fire service in general, not only in our region but across the United States.”

Change is difficult, and Milton residents might see consolidation of fire departments as losing a piece of their community. But the fire department in Milton cannot go on as it is. It’s not sustainable. Changing to full-time staffing is the answer, and the least expensive and most efficient way to get there is to join forces with Janesville.

Consolidating the Janesville and Milton departments would save money and might save lives.

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