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Fire responses up for debate

Aug. 11, 2014

New Berlin — Citizen concern over New Berlin Fire Department response times to the part of western New Berlin that is far from the nearest fire station and has no fire hydrants sparked a call for a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20, at City Hall, 3805 S. Casper Drive.

The area in question is roughly bordered by Greenfield, Lincoln and Cleveland avenues. It has no water service, hence no fire hydrants. The average response time to the area is about eight minutes, compared with less than five for the rest of New Berlin, hydrants or not, Fire Chief Lloyd Bertram said.

Eight minutes is too long, said Mary Palmer who lives in that area. And when the fire engines arrive, do they have enough water to effectively fight a fire? she asked.

Maybe water service to hydrants should be provided along main roads, she suggested.

Bertram, however, said the water supply problem is pretty much solved, although the best solution is fire hydrants.

New Berlin fire engines arrive carrying 500 to 750 gallons of water which they can use immediately to fight fires if the tenders are not there yet, he said. The city's two tenders hold a combined 7,500 gallons, he said.

"It would be rare to run out of water before we get a tender there," Bertram said.

"We also immediately request support tenders from neighboring (Fire Departments) in Elm Grove, town of Waukesha and Vernon," Bertram said.

Because New Berlin is a full-time fire department with all four fire stations staffed 24/7, fire engines get to fires while they are still smaller and can be controlled, he said.

"Most fires we respond to are controlled with the water we carry on the fire trucks," he said.

And once the tender operation gets going with the help of other communities, water flows well, he said.

"It takes quite a big fire before we run out of water," he said. The department didn't run out of water even at the fairly recent blaze at Trees on the Move," he said.

But the issue of response time is more troubling, he said. Eight minutes is longer than the five minute goal of the National Fire Protection Association, he said.

"We're clearly outside that border," he said. And the reason is simple: "We don't have a fire station in that area."

That's why the city is pursuing an agreement under which the city of Waukesha would automatically respond to calls from there. It has a fire station that is much closer and its fire engines also carry water.

The proposal is patterned after an agreement with Brookfield where each community has a fire station that's closer to residents of the other. So, when calls come from across the border, each automatically responds, Bertram said.

The proposed agreement with Waukesha came about in spring and is still under consideration by Waukesha officials.

Palmer strongly supports that agreement.

"We have an opportunity to get better service by having the city of Waukesha assist us," she said.

But there could also be other solutions, she said.

What she is striving for is an agreement to come up with a plan, Palmer said.

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