City of Waukesha Interim Fire Chief Steve Howard said providing fire service to the northwestern part of New Berlin is a step in the right direction for 'possible partnerships' with Waukesha's neighbors.
In a 4-1 vote last week, Waukesha's Finance Committee recommended the common council approve an automatic aid agreement in which Fire Station 2 in Waukesha would provide services for a small section of New Berlin.
'It is my belief that further exploring an agreement would be beneficial to both communities,' Howard said. 'I envision this agreement as being very limited in scope, due to the relatively small geographical area, limited development and limited population density.'
If the agreement is approved, it would be the second automatic-aid agreement New Berlin has entered in the last year. The other was with the city of Brookfield, approved in 2013.
'This (Brookfield-New Berlin) agreement has proven very successful in assisting both communities in meeting their response-time goals and better serving the public,' Howard said in a memo.
Given its success, Howard said New Berlin Fire Chief Lloyd Bertram approached Waukesha about the possibility of also aiding New Berlin. This includes an area bordered roughly by Greenfield Avenue, Lincoln Avenue and Cleveland Avenue.
'Chief Bertram recognizes the circumstances are different than their agreement with Brookfield and has been very open to creative solutions that will meet the needs of both New Berlin and Waukesha,' Howard said.
Nature of aid
While Waukesha already responds to other communities, the difference is that Waukesha would now be automatically dispatched with New Berlin units, a first for Waukesha's department.
Howard said based on call volume and response data, Waukesha's Station 2 has the capability of handling the anticipated increase of 40 calls per year — five fire responses and 35 emergency medical services.
Also, the closest New Berlin fire station to that area is not currently staffed 24 hours a day. Waukesha's Station 2 is. That's a factor in why Waukesha's response times are better to certain New Berlin locations.
The responsibility, however, would still belong to New Berlin.
'It does not mean that (New Berlin personnel) are going to give up responsibility for this area or they're asking us to completely take over this area,' Howard said. 'What they've noticed in looking at their response times is we can get there quicker than they can.'
Waukesha's Station 2 would respond to fires with its equipment and provide an ambulance to respond to emergencies and do initial care.
Howard said if Station 2 is already tied up within the city of Waukesha, the agreement would not require other Waukesha stations to respond to New Berlin.
New Berlin's efforts
In return, the New Berlin Fire Department would provide an Advanced Life Support ambulance to stand by in Waukesha's Station 2 when the Waukesha Fire Department has a working structure fire or when all of the city's ALS units are unavailable for an extended period of time.
That typically happens between 25 and 30 times a year, Howard said.
'New Berlin would backfill Station 2 if we had a large-scale fire and all our units were out,' Howard said.
Also, Howard explained, since the two departments are dispatched by different dispatch centers, the city of New Berlin is willing to pay for supplemental communications equipment, such as pagers and tablet-style computers for Waukesha's fire trucks.
Waukesha Alderman Terry Thieme, who represents constituents where Station 2 is located, was the only finance committee member who didn't support the agreement.
'I don't know the training New Berlin has,' Thieme said.
Thieme added that, in his memory, the topic had never come up in previous talks with Howard and former Waukesha Fire Chief Allen LaConte.
'Nowhere in those talks did anything ever come about as far as any kind of aid to a neighboring jurisdiction,' Thieme said. 'I can't justify (fire trucks) being out in a neighboring jurisdiction for a normal call when somebody in my district needs something.'
Alderwoman Kathleen Cummings, however, said this concept has been discussed for many years.
'This idea is not new to me,' Cummings said. 'To cut it off at the very beginning, when I think it has a lot of merit, is premature.'