ONALASKA — Officials from La Crosse and neighboring municipalities will explore whether to implement a new response system for fires and other large-scale emergencies.
Adopting automatic aid would allow the firefighters closest to the disaster to cross jurisdictions immediately; existing mutual agreements require agencies to request the response when an emergency exceeds local resources.
“There are very few things we do in government that are this important,” Onalaska Mayor Joe Chilsen said Tuesday. “Police and fire are the two things that are paramount.”
Leaders from La Crosse, Onalaska, Holmen, Shelby, Campbell, La Crescent and others met to discuss opportunities for regionalizing services.
“The goal is for us to find a way to work together to lower expenditures and maintain a high level of service,” Chilsen said.
La Crosse Fire Chief Ken Gilliam raised the idea of a regional fire department that could reduce administrative costs and spending for duplicate expensive equipment used for fire and medical emergencies and response times in some municipalities.
“We already collaborate on emergency medical services — a public safety matter where we have a great track record,” La Crosse County Board Chair Tara Johnson said.
Area leaders say they’re willing to explore regionalization but decided Tuesday the first step must be for each to understand mutual aid agreements and the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System — a preplanned, complex and evolving mutual aid measure developed in 2010.
Gilliam has questioned why, under MABAS, the La Crosse Fire Department isn’t the first agency sent to fires in the town of Campbell that require extra help. The agency does not charge for the response, he added.
“I’m watching houses catch fire and we’re not getting called, and that’s frustrating to me,” he said.
Onalaska Fire Chief Don Dominick and Holmen Area Fire Department Chief Paul Menches, who both retire this summer, endorsed automatic aid as an attainable measure to improve response.
“I think we need to change the way we do business,” Menches said. “And I think the only way we’re going to do that is by doing what we’re doing here: coming to the table.”
The municipal officials did not set a date for their next meeting.
From Tribune files: Fires damage La Crosse area buildings
1915: Logan High School
This scene shows spectators watching a fire March 2, 1915, at the old Logan School which was located on the northeast corner of Logan and Avon streets. There were 350 kindergarten through ninth grade students in the school when the fire broke out but they all safely evacuated the building within 40 seconds — with the quick exit due to the students having practiced frequent fire drills according to Tribune files. This school, which opened in 1892, was repaired after the fire and continued to serve students into the early 1930s before being razed in 1934. The former site of the school is now occupied by Logan Middle School. Anyone with more information about this photo or wishing to donate photos of the Coulee Region may contact the La Crosse Public Library Archives at 608-789-7136.
1916: The Cameron House
Spectators watch as La Crosse firefighters, perched atop a snow-covered passenger platform canopy, battle a blaze at the old Milwaukee Railroad passenger depot and Cameron House hotel on Dec. 24, 1916. This fire 100 years ago gutted the brick-veneered structure, and it was razed shortly afterward. No lives were lost as all the hotel occupants escaped, some of them dressed only in their nightclothes. Completed in 1880 on the southwest corner of Second and Vine streets, this combination depot-hotel at one time had 13 passenger trains arriving and departing daily. During its early days the Cameron House’s dining room gave La Crosse the reputation as “the town where you get that splendid meal,” and its fame was as well known in Montreal or Quebec as in St. Paul or Kansas City, according to Tribune files. The former site of this one-time landmark is now occupied by a parking lot. Anyone with more information about this photo or wishing to donate photos of the Coulee Region may contact the La Crosse Public Library Archives at 608-789-7136.
1935: Listman Mill
This snapshot, taken from La Crosse’s old wagon bridge during the early morning hours of Oct. 28, 1935, shows the old Listman Mill engulfed in flames during the fire that gutted the six-story complex. Thousands of spectators turned out to watch the blaze, whose flames shot hundreds of feet into the air and scattered burning embers over a huge area, according to Tribune files. The Listman Mill, which was located on the riverfront between Jay and King streets, was well known as the producer of Marvel Flour during the late 19th century and early 20th century, though the plant sat largely idle from 1918 to 1935 due to labor strife. The former site of the mill is now occupied by the Riverside Center South building and the north section of the Weber Center for the Performing Arts. Anyone with more information about this photo or wishing to donate photos of the Coulee Region may contact the La Crosse Public Library Archives at 608-789-7136.
1948 La Crosse Auto Supply fire
Hundreds of spectators crowd the scene of a fire that gutted the La Crosse Auto Supply Co. at 125 S. Sixth St. on May 9, 1948. The Auto Supply Co. was located next door to the Johnson Motor Co., a Dodge-Plymouth auto dealership, which suffered smoke and water damage from the fire. The old La Crosse Auto Supply Co. building is currently occupied by Kathy’s Cookie Co.
1950: Heileman Brewery
Firefighters are at the scene of a Feb. 24, 1950, fire which damaged the Heileman Brewery stockhouse (at left) in the 200 block of Winnebago Street. The seven-story stockhouse was then under construction, with the fire taking place on the fourth and fifth floors in insulated walls consisting of cork and tar according to Tribune files. The burning tar created huge plumes of black smoke, which attracted a large crowd of spectators despite below-zero weather.
1951: Swanson building
This photo, taken Feb. 21, 1951, shows the ruins of the old Swanson Building after an overnight fire gutted the building, which was located at the east end of Clinton Street. Elmer Swanson, who owned the building and maintained offices there for Swanson’s Heavy Movers Inc., was sleeping in an apartment on the second floor when the fire broke out but safely escaped, according to Tribune files. Other businesses that occupied the building at that time were Aircraft Parts Mfg. Co., American Beverage Sales, La Crosse Truck Equipment Co., Mathy Construction Co., Osweiler Van Service and the Scott-Dillon Tobacco Co. Anyone with more information about this photo or wishing to donate photos of the Coulee Region may contact the La Crosse Public Library Archives at 608-789-7136.
1954: R.E. Osborne 5 and 10-cent Store
Ladders and hoses were plentiful as La Crosse firemen battled a blaze at the R.E. Osborne 5 and 10-cent Store on Dec. 13, 1954. The fire, which began in the basement of the Osborne store at 1201 Caledonia St., gutted the building and an adjoining business, the Haraldson Shoe Store at 1203 Caledonia St. (not shown). The Osborne building was later razed and replaced by a one-story building that was home to a Ben Franklin store for many years before being occupied by the building’s current tenant, Options Clinic. This view of the fire was taken from St. Paul Street and also shows the Buckhorn Tavern at 621 St. Paul St. This building remains standing today and is now home to Dewey’s Side Street Saloon. Anyone with more information about this photo or wishing to donate photos of the Coulee Region may call the La Crosse Public Library Archives at 608-789-7136.
1972: Menard's Cashway Lumber
La Crosse firefighters battle a fire in the lumberyard at the Menard's Cashway Lumber location in April 1972 at 47 Copeland Ave. The damage was estimated at about $75,000.
1979: Downtown La Crosse arson
La Crosse firefighters battle a three-alarm fire on Dec. 30, 1979, which gutted the old La Crosse National Bank Building on the southeast corner of Third and Main streets.
Investigators determined the cause was arson started in Zorba’s Gyros Restaurant, one of several businesses in the building. The restaurant’s owner and another man later served prison time for their part in the arson scheme.
The former bank building, built in 1881, was condemned after the fire and razed in May 1980 - with its former site being occupied by a vacant lot since that time.
Anyone with more information about this photo or wishing to donate photos of the Coulee Region may contact the La Crosse Public Library Archives at 608-789-7136.
1980: North Side apartment building
This photo shows La Crosse firefighters fighting a Jan. 27, 1980, fire that destroyed an apartment building under construction in the 200 block of Liberty Street. Thirty firefighters worked in below-zero temperatures at this fire, which took four hours to extinguish, according to Tribune files. Anyone with more information about this photo or wishing to donate photos of the Coulee Region may contact the La Crosse Public Library Archives at 608-789-7136.
1982: Caledonia Street
La Crosse firefighters battle a blaze at 912 Caledonia St. on March 8, 1982. The building housed Tri-State Refrigeration, H&R Block and an upstairs apartment.
1982: La Crosse Garment Co.
A firefighter signals for more water as a blaze badly damages a warehouse for The La Crosse Garment Co. on Jan. 14, 1982, at the corner of Eighth and Adams streets. Erected in 1887 for the Salzer Seed Co., this building no longer exists and its former site is now occupied by a one-story Salzer Square apartment building.
1994: Johnnie's Restaurant fire
La Crosse firefighters battle a three-alarm fire that destroyed Johnnie’s Bar and Restaurant 25 years ago during the early morning hours of Feb. 26, 1994. It took firefighters seven hours to put out the fire, using 1.8 million gallons of water, according to Tribune files. Johnnie’s, which dated to 1947 and was located at 2620 South Ave., was a popular eatery and was widely known for its Friday night fish. The former site of the restaurant is now occupied by a parking/storage area for Geiwitz Renovating at 2612 South Ave. Anyone with more information about this photo or wishing to donate photos of the Coulee Region may contact the La Crosse Public Library Archives at 608-789-7136.
2002: Ridgeview Inn
A kitchen fire in April 2002 destroyed Ridgeview Inn, east of La Crosse.
2009: Copeland Avenue apartments
La Crosse firefighters hose down an apartment next to Charlotte's Bridal and Formal Weal on April 19, 2009, along Copeland Avenue.
2011: El Charro Mexican Restaurant
Firefighter pour water onto the remains of the El Charro Mexican Restaurant in Crossing Meadows in Onalaska on April 4, 2011. The building was later torn down, and Shogun Sushi and Hibachi opened in that spot in 2014.
2011: Jay Street building
La Crosse firefighters soak a building along Jay Street near Fifth Avenue on July 30, 2011. The structure was a total loss.
These photos are filled with many familiar faces and places from our area's past.
Anne Jungen can be reached at
email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @LCTCrimeCourts.