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Fire Department will operate temporary station during construction

Innovations seek to reduce spending

Sept. 26, 2012

The Wauwatosa Fire Department will operate a temporary firehouse during Zoo Interchange construction work, when Mayfair and Watertown Plank road will be congested, Fire Chief Rob Ugaste said.

"During 2014, over approximately a nine- to 10-month period, we're going to need to create a temporary firehouse, temporary station four … so that we can quickly get to the west side of the city," he said.

Setting up the temporary fire station is one of a number of challenges for the Fire Department. Financial pressures facing the city have forced sacrifices in all city departments, and the Fire Department was called on to trim $275,000 for this year, costing it three positions.

The 2013 budget calls for a cut of $160,000, Ugaste said.

Ugaste said the temporary station will be staffed by firefighters reassigned from other stations, and use an apparatus redistributed from another station. All three other stations would continue to operate.

The department is studying options for the temporary station with the state Department of Transportation. Ugaste said he prefers a location west of Mayfair Road.

Mayfair Road, which is still undergoing improvements from Burleigh Road south, will be rebuilt beginning next spring from Watertown Plank to the interchange at Interstate-94 and Highway 45. The intersection of Bluemound and Mayfair roads will be shut down entirely from July 20 to July 31, DOT Communications Manager Emlynn Grisar said.

Watertown Plank Road will be rebuilt and widened from 87th Street to Mayfair Road beginning late next year and continuing into 2014. The intersection of Mayfair and Watertown Plank will close completely next summer, from Aug. 1 to Aug. 10, Grisar said.

Trimming the budget

Other cost-saving or revenue-producing measures are planned.

The department has renegotiated its billing services contract for emergency medical service calls, saving it about $50,000, Deputy Fire Chief Jim Case said. Anticipated retirements by four senior, higher-paid members of the department would produce some salary savings.

Finally, the department anticipates increased volume in EMS transport fees, which are billed and create revenue for the city. EMS transport fees have increased by $500,000 over the past five years, according to a Budget Committee presentation by Ugaste. That trend is expected to continue.

Another initiative the department has undertaken is an agreement with the North Shore Fire Department to cooperate on repair functions by sharing mechanics, shops and reserve fleets.

"They'll work together, and they'll combine the resources, so that at times, when it would be beneficial for all the mechanics to be working on one job at the same time, that will happen; and if, for instance, we have a manpower shortage in mechanics due to vacations, the organizations will send their mechanic to aid the other organization," he said.

Ugaste said that he would like to have the shops do repair work for other departments, and even warranty work for apparatus manufacturers, both of which would produce revenue. He stressed that he has no agreements in place.

A new station?

Yet another concern in the department is the location of Station 2, at 4187 N. Mayfair Road. It serves Luther Manor retirement community at 4545 N. 92nd St., which produces the city's highest EMS call volume.

Station 2 is handy to Luther Manor, but a study in the 1990s identified it as too far north for its coverage area. Ugaste said that a fire service standard for a community like Wauwatosa says that the time elapsed between a call to a dispatcher and the arrival of the first apparatus on the scene should not exceed 8 minutes and 12 seconds, 90 percent of the time.

Station 1, in the village, and Station 3, at 10525 Watertown Plank Road, met that standard based on data taken from the first six months of this year. But Station 2 had a time of 8 minutes and 53 seconds. Moving the station to somewhere near the corner of Burleigh and Mayfair roads would be more convenient to most locations in the coverage area, and ready access to Highway 45 would allow quick response to Luther Manor and other points north.

Ugaste said it would probably be about five years before such a move could take place.

Long-term concerns

Although the Fire Department budget does require staffing cuts this year, Ugaste has concerns about the long-term outlook.

"If budget reductions continue to occur as anticipated, it's reasonable to assume that in coming years this will result in positions lost," he said. "If we continue to lose positions, there will come a point where we can no longer staff the apparatus we now staff."

For Ugaste, it amounts to a set of choices about service.

"The biggest thing we stress is that we want to be good partners, and that, as a result, the community needs to dictate how much service it's willing to pay for, and so we will adjust according to future budgets," he said. "We believe that it's our responsibility to educate the officials and the citizens as to the potential impact if we have to deal with continued budget deficits."

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