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Creative collaboration key to Fire budget

Sept. 24, 2013

The Wauwatosa Fire Department will lose a fire prevention lieutenant and has reorganized its supervisory structure as part of its effort to reduce its budget by 3.7 percent for 2014, representing a savings of $488,104 over what it is expected to spend in the current year.

The elimination of the fire prevention officer will reduce the frequency of fire inspections to non-residential structures from two times a year to once a year, according to the department's budget statement.

The reorganization reduces the number of lieutenant positions by three, and reduces the number of captains from nine to six.

Innovative collaborations

The Fire Department won praise from members of the Budget Committee for its innovative collaborations with other departments to save money.

The department for the third year held a joint training academy with the North Shore Fire Department, which allows the departments to share instructors and work together. Fire Chief Rob Ugaste said 22 students have gone through this process.

It also shares its repair shop, mechanics and reserve apparatus with the North Shore department, and two years ago joined in the creation of a 22-unit purchasing consortium that has yielded significant savings, Ugaste said. This includes, for example, savings of $300 per set in turnout gear, which is the clothing firefighters wear in responding to a fire. The larger departments of Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay also have or will become participants, he said.

The department has entered into a joint coverage agreement on structure fires with the city of Milwaukee, ending a system under which the departments didn't cross the border, Ugaste said. West Allis, Greenfield and North Shore also are working with Milwaukee.

Ugaste is working on an agreement with neighboring fire departments to help pay for maintenance of the Wauwatosa training facility, which they also use. The facility includes a tower, and is located off Walnut Road, west of Mayfair Road. North Shore and Brookfield fire departments have agreed to share in the upkeep, Ugaste said.

A $5,000 annual fee would be charged to departments that use the facility, Ugaste said, with the city matching that fee. Just last year, $40,000 was spent on repairs, and this year $3,600 was paid by the city for an inspection to certify the training tower.

The cost of savings

Ugaste said that the department has lost 12 sworn positions since 2004, including the elimination of the fire prevention lieutenant, with 10 of the positions being lost in the last four years.

As a result of reductions, one ambulance is no longer staffed, and Fire Station No. 2, on the city's north end, now only has one engine and one med unit.

"The dedicated positions of training officer and fire marshal no longer exist. The purchase of dispatch software that would significantly expedite call processing in the dispatch center had to be delayed. Every effort has been made to find efficiencies and create revenue, but to be honest, we're running out of options," Ugaste said.

Ugaste noted that the department itself generates $3 million in revenue, which constitutes more than 23 percent of its annual budget.

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