Hales Corners — The change to a part-time Fire Department has halved response times, allowed for increased training and brought about a surge in recruitment efforts, Fire Chief Michael Jankowski said.
Since July, when the department moved from paid-on-call to part-time staffing, the average ambulance response has dropped to four minutes and the average fire engine response has dropped to 41/2 minutes.
From 2009 to 2011, the Hales Corners Fire Department took eight minutes, on average, to respond to an ambulance call and 81/2minutes to reach the scene of a fire.
Training and retention have improved as well.
When the department was paid-on-call, it held twice-weekly trainings, Deputy Chief Martin Freibergs said. Now, training is held twice a day, and takes place in groups of four, rather than 30 or more.
In 2011 and 2012, firefighters logged between 5,000 and 5,300 training hours. In 2013, they logged more than 7,000 hours of training time.
For Zach Menden, who has been a member of the Fire Department for 11/2 years, the change connects him with more veteran firefighters.
"You're always getting a senior person and one more person who's been here a decent amount of time," he added. "You get to learn from them, and they teach you everything they know."
Before the getting the part-time position in Hales Corners, Menden was looking for a position elsewhere. He said four shifts per month weren't giving him the training and experience he needed to grow.
"Now I'm here more often, get to know more people and get that experience I wouldn't have gotten," he added.
Jankowski, who teaches part-time at Milwaukee Area Technical College, said the new model has given the Hales Corners Fire Department the ability to compete with surrounding communities for talented and skilled employees.
While the benefits of the new model are clear, how it will be paid for is not. The change increased the department's expenses by $150,000 per year.
Voters will be asked on April 1 to allow the village to exceed its state-imposed levy limit. If approved, the owner of a home of average value will pay $48 more per year in taxes.
Village Manager Michael Weber said that if the referendum is turned down, the extra money needed to run the Fire Department most likely will come out of the administration and library funds. It is doubtful the Fire Department staffing model, which already has improved training and employee retention, will be changed, he said.