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Loss of on-call firefighters? Not quite an emergency yet for Hales Corners

But village may have to change its system

Oct. 23, 2012

Hales Corners - The Hales Corners Fire Department may need to change its 75-year-old fire department on-call format.

Hales Corners utilizes a paid on-premise model during the day and switches to the on-call model in the evenings. With reductions in the number of on-call staff falling from the traditional 43 to around 30, the department has been looking at contingency plans.

While there hasn't been a lapse in service and there is no immediate threat to service levels, the department has adopted plans to either recruit more on-call staff or change the format to on-premise.

Virtually every contingency plan could cost Hales Corners, some to the tune of $100,000.

"If our businesses and residents can't respond to our plea for more people to sign up as paid, on-call workers, we're not going to have much of a choice," Village Administrator Michael Weber said.

Qualified help

One logistical impediment Hales Corners has in maintaining on-call staffing levels is a close-proximity requirement.

On-call firefighters must live within five minutes of the village, to speed their response times. By comparison, no such requirement is necessary for on-premise firefighters, who await emergency calls in the fire station itself.

For businesses and residents who meet that requirement, there's another obstacle: proper training.

To be an on-call firefighter, one must complete one semester of firefighter training and one semester of EMT training. State requirements for firefighters have increased as well. Firefighters need mandatory 18 months of training at MATC to fully function in a department. Those restrictions did not previously apply.

Furthermore, once firefighters have invested time and money in becoming fully trained, some see advantages in taking better-compensated on-premise jobs, which offer guaranteed pay and guaranteed experience. (On-call staffers are only paid when they respond to emergencies.)

If on-premise jobs aren't available locally, they tend to look elsewhere.

The next generation

One partial solution the village has supported is guiding youth toward firefighting.

Hales Corners has revived its Fire Explorer program, which works with people ages 14 to 20. The free program, which meets monthly, offers opportunities for CPR and AED certification. The participants learn basic aspects of firefightingand EMT operations.

The program generally sees about half of the participants pursuing a career in fire service.

A previous incarnation of the Fire Explorer program was canceled due to lack of interest, but during an Oct. 20 open house, 12 students were in attendance. Each student filled out an application.

The next meeting is slated for Nov. 17.

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