As the Holmen Area Fire Department continues to rebuild, its fire chief is advising the Holmen Area Fire District Association Board the department is coming up short on funding.

“We are five years behind,” said Holmen Area Fire Department Chief Paul Menches. “The equalized value has climbed, but the department’s finances have gone south. We have to increase the operating budget for the next few years. The numbers we’re proposing are ultra conservative. You’ll have to take this back to your boards for approval; you have to make the tough call.”

In a needs assessment draft presented to the board at its Sept. 20 meeting, the fire chief reported the department has had operational and capital improvement budget deficits of $58,767 in 2016 and $65,706 in 2017. Menches advised the fire board the proposed 2018 budget shows a $66,196 deficit.

The 2018 budget figures are based a per capita fire cost (dollar cost per person) of $27 per person for Holmen and $48 and $41 per person in the towns of Onalaska and Holland respectively.

“The towns are paying higher per capita costs than the village,” said Menches, “and the village is getting the bulk of the calls.”

The fire board changed the formula under which each member municipality would contribute to the operation of the fire department in 2015. Before the change in the formula, each municipality paid equally toward the fire department’s operation. However, with Holmen’s growth and increased demand on the emergency services, the assessment for each municipality was changed to amount of equalized value of each municipality.

“The equalized value is a good start,” said board member Jerome Pedretti, representing the town of Holland, “but we might have to tweak it.”

In addition to the equalized value of each member municipalities, the chief advised the board members should consider per capita fire costs, number of responses made in each municipality and the size of the coverage area.

“We are the smallest (fire) department and responsible for the largest area in the county,” said Menches, “and it’s is one of the largest in the state for a combination department.”

Eighty percent of the Holmen Area Fire District is rural and the rural area generally lacks fire hydrants available to supply water for fire suppression.

In addition to operational expenses, the needs assessment included projected costs for equipment replacement. The projected cost to replace a rescue squad, a combination engine/aerial with platform and a water tanker is estimated at $1.6 million.

“Fire apparatus is too expensive,” said Menches. “We have no choice but to (update equipment), if we don’t, decision makers must assume the risk.”

He further stated that since the fire service at the national level does not have its own research and development, experienced commercial businesses are designing fleet needs.

New full-time firefighter

The chief announced the department hired part-time firefighter Tony Kropelin as its newest full-time firefighter to start full-time Nov. 1.

The fire department has been working to expand its roster to meet national standards set by the federal government. The U.S. Department of Labor has set a guideline of 1.1 firefighter for every 1,000 residents the department serves. The HAFD currently serves a population of slightly under 18,000 district residents.

Along with increasing the number of full-time firefighters, the department continues to seek part-time responders. The chief advised the board he lowered the recruitment age from 21 to 18, stating doing so was critical for the department’s recruitment efforts.

“We’re the only department in the entire area not using 18 (as the minimum age for recruitment),” said Menches.

With the change in the age requirement, the department offered Colton Le Clair a position as part-time firefighter. Le Clair, a Holmen High School graduate, was a recipient of a HAFD scholarship.

“Here’s a fine recruit that if we didn’t change the age, we won’t get him,” said Menches.

Response times

The increase in the number of full-time and part-time responders on the fire department’s roster will enable the department to better meet national and state standards when responding to calls.

“To meet national and state standards, we need to have four trained personnel on an engine,” said Menches. “For the most part, we are meeting the standard.”

The department is also working to meet standards regulating the required response times of leaving the station. The standards set this time at around five to six minutes for a combination department. Menches reported the department’s response time has stabilized at just over five minutes.

“The times will continue to improve with the new full-time hire and a new schedule” said Menches.