Fire Chiefs Talk Options for EMS Service

Three Door County fire chiefs attended the Baileys Harbor Town Board meeting April 8, the first of 19 such meetings they plan to attend to address options given the county’s recent discussions of privatizing EMS services.

Liberty Grove-Sister Bay Fire Chief Chris Hecht said it’s a positive opportunity to discuss the service, it’s pros and cons, and what the future holds for the municipalities. Hecht also serves as a paramedic for the county and as president of the Door County Fire Chiefs Association.

Baileys Harbor Fire Chief Brian Zak joined Hecht in the presentation to the town board, and Gibraltar Fire Chief Andy Bertges was in the audience.

Zak said all 10 of the county’s fire chiefs met April 2 for three hours to discuss how municipalities – which are ultimately responsible by state statute for providing emergency services – should proceed. He added that Hecht’s insight was particularly valuable because he serves on the county’s paramedic rescue squad.

Outgoing town chair Don Sitte asked Hecht if most communities are against the idea of privatization, and Hecht replied that he does not know because this is the first town approached, but he added, “We believe it would be a negative impact for the community.”

Hecht said the county has talked for years about getting out of the emergency medical services business, but things seem to have gone beyond the talking stage with the county recently deciding to issue a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) – a step to identify private emergency-services vendors. The next step would be to issue a Request for Proposals from vendors who respond to the RFQ. [At a Door County Administrative Committee meeting the next day, county Administrator Ken Pabich said he and Corporation Counsel Grant Thomas are still working on the RFQ.]

“The law says it is the municipality’s responsibility for providing service,” Hecht said. “The county is providing it now. We believe the county has a right to get out of it. It is our responsibility at the local level.” But, he added, the county does not have the right to give the service away to a private provider.

Hecht pointed out that all the municipalities have an excellent resource in recently elected Sturgeon Bay Alder Dan Williams, who previously served as director of Door County Emergency Services, chair of the state EMS program and program director of UW Med Flight.

Hecht said the fire chiefs are trying to take the “10,000-foot view” to see what’s best for everybody in the county.

“We know the shortcomings of the service and the positives,” he said. “We believe we can effect some very positive change – not that the service is broken, but it’s a great opportunity to set the reset button. It’s a very good service, outstanding level of care, but what are we missing? We don’t have answers for you tonight. We are having these discussions. We want you to be able to ask questions. It’s our hope we will develop multiple different options – at least six or seven options – to make this work and present to individual municipalities.”

“We’re trying to be proactive rather than reactive,” Zak said. “They’ve pushed the buttons to force us in this direction. We’re just trying to make sure everybody’s getting educated and informed.”

“This will be municipal-based and, ultimately, the power of this lies with you,” Hecht said.

The 10 fire chiefs signed a collective statement on the subject and sent it to state Rep. Joel Kitchens and Sen. André Jacques. They also invited Kitchens to talk with them on the subject.

“We have a history of working collaboratively to solve problems. We really do. And we would like the opportunity to do that,” Hecht said.

He acknowledged the big sticking point will be money.

“How do we do that?” Hecht asked. “Do we ask each of 19 municipalities to pay in? What if one doesn’t?”

Hecht said the chiefs realize the municipalities need concrete options, and those will come from hosting multiple meetings around the county.

“We could end up with 19 EMS departments,” Hecht said. “Obviously, that’s not very cost effective. One EMS department is cost effective. There are all kinds of permutations that could come out of this.”

In other matters:

• With three bids returned for the third and final year of phragmites control on seven acres in the town, the board voted to award the contract to Paul Regnier for his bid of $21,344.44.

• Further discussion of extending town sidewalks along County F from Park Road to County EE will have to wait until the county does its road inspections in July. Sitte said the county didn’t like the sight lines of the town’s plan for the crosswalks and want to hold off on issuing a permit until the annual inspection.

• Residents will be asked at the annual meeting April 16 whether the town should buy the former Darlene’s Beauty Salon at the corner of Park Road and Highway 57 for $150,000. Sitte said it was offered to the town four years ago for $200,000, but the offer was rejected. Now that the town is considering options for its fire station, the deal may be more attractive because it borders the current fire station property. The annual town meeting begins at 7 pm.

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