Give the town of Beloit credit.

The town is losing its fire chief, but town leaders are using it as an opportunity to at least consider something different for the future of its fire service.

Fire Chief Gene Wright is retiring Oct. 9, but rather than simply begin advertising for Wright’s replacement, town leaders are investigating other options.

A town committee on Tuesday talked with Janesville Fire Chief Ernie Rhodes. The committee wanted to know more about how the shared services agreement between the Janesville Fire Department and the Milton Fire Department has been working out. Rhodes is chief for both Janesville and Milton.

Might the town of Beloit strike up a similar relationship with the Janesville Fire Department? Might Rhodes become chief of the town of Beloit department? Who knows, but it’s good to see another Rock County municipality considering deeper cooperation between fire departments.

We used this space before to advocate for consolidation of fire departments in Rock County. We still believe it’s a good idea.

The blunt truth is that the volunteer model that served rural areas so well for decades is now broken. Fire departments can’t find enough help. Part of the blame goes to the high levels of training required for even beginner firefighters. Few people can commit to giving the kind of time it takes to train, much less the time to fight fires.

Milton and the town of Milton, which have had their own fire department for years, are now considering a proposal to merge with the Janesville Fire Department. It would result in Milton getting full-time firefighters.

Rhodes told The Gazette on Thursday he has been talking to the city of Beloit and town of Beloit fire chiefs about a shared fleet of reserve ambulances and fire engines.

Meanwhile in Walworth County, six towns and villages are hoping to combine resources to hire a private company, Metro Paramedic Services, to provide a shared paramedic ambulance. Five of the towns and villages will have referendum questions on the Nov. 3 ballot seeking permission to exceed their levy limits to pay for the service.

The decline in volunteerism is the reason, said Village of Darien Administrator Rebecca LeMire.

Last year, the Darien ambulance missed calls because it lacked staffing. Thirty times the ambulance responded with only a driver, which is not a legal crew.

“We’ve relied on the volunteers to do this big job of responding to emergency calls for medical services, and they’ve done a great job, and they continue to do a great job, but the chiefs have come to the realization that in this day and age with the other things going on in everybody’s lives, it’s not realistic anymore to expect that all of our calls will be responded to by volunteers who are leaving work or leaving home or leaving school or leaving whatever other commitments in their lives to respond,” LeMire told The Gazette.

Elkhorn residents on Nov. 3 will see a referendum question seeking an extra $1.6 million a year for fire and EMS, and LeMire said the town of Delavan is gearing up to ask voters in April for $900,000 for fire and EMS.

“So clearly, something needs to be done,” she said.

We agree.

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