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New Berlin may contract with Waukesha Fire Department for an underserved section of city

Aug. 25, 2014

New Berlin — As a New Berlin resident and Waukesha firefighter, Dan Holehouse finds himself in a rare situation. New Berlin officials are examining a proposal to contract with the Waukesha Fire Department for an underserved section of the city's northwest side.

"We need to do something about our staffing levels in New Berlin," said Holehouse, one of several residents who spoke Wednesday, Aug. 20, at a neighborhood meeting about the potential cooperative arrangement.

New Berlin officials are examining how response times can be improved in a section of the city that has rural characteristics. The area is roughly bordered by Cleveland, Greenfield and Lincoln avenues. Homes in this section of the city are not hooked up to municipal water; consequently, they are not serviced with fire hydrants.

Exacerbating the issue are response times. Recent statistics have indicated fire and EMS crews respond to calls in the northwest corner of New Berlin in about eight minutes. By contrast, the rest of New Berlin averages response times of five minutes or less.

New Berlin Fire Chief Lloyd Bertram laid out the challenges and recommended solutions at the neighborhood meeting. Reaction about the cooperative agreement with Waukesha was mixed from the two-dozen residents in attendance.

With the existing configuration and staffing of New Berlin's five fire stations in mind, Bertram said Waukesha's Fire Station No. 2, 1714 Pearl St., is able to most effectively serve the residents within the area of question because it is closest in proximity.

During the most recent reconfiguration of the New Berlin Fire Department's resources, Bertram said a decision was made to distribute personnel and equipment to areas in the greatest need.

"I had to make a decision, and I stand by that decision," Bertram said. "It all comes down to cost. This is an area with the least amount of run volume."

Based on his projections and historical data, Bertram asserted Waukesha fire and EMS personnel would take calls on New Berlin's northwest side about 25 times per year, or about once every two weeks.

New Berlin leaders — including Bertram — have largely favored moving forward with the exploration. City officials asserted the arrangement with Waukesha would likely be short-term. As the city grows, and infrastructure evolves, New Berlin could allocate more of its own resources to the area in the future.

"This is a no-brainer — at least for the time being," said New Berlin Alderman John Hopkins, who serves as the elected liaison to the city's fire department.

But some attendees question the rationale, including Holehouse, who is president of the Waukesha Professional Firefighters Local 407 — the union representing Waukesha fire and EMS professionals.

"The citizens of Waukesha have put a lot of money to preserve services; they've moved stations around," Holehouse said. "A heart attack doesn't know what area you live in. A stroke doesn't know what area you live in. I'm willing to have my taxes go up to increase staffing."

Interim Waukesha Fire Chief Steven Howard, who attended the meeting, said he is in favor of continuing the dialogue with New Berlin.

"Ultimately, it is up to the (Waukesha) Common Council," Howard said. "But conceptually, there has been a desire (in Waukesha) to consider this."

Draft language of the agreement is expected to surface in New Berlin and Waukesha's common councils in September as 2015 budget talks in both municipalities begin picking up steam.

Language in the agreement is expected to state Waukesha would retain any revenue generated by transporting New Berlin residents from their homes to such venues as hospitals. New Berlin also is expected to periodically provide some of its own resources, including staffing and equipment, to Waukesha.

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