By Lynn Binnie
Whitewater Banner volunteer staff
The city of Whitewater and surrounding townships were served by the independent not-for-profit Whitewater Fire Department, Inc. (WFD) from 1871 until July 30, 2022, at which time the city assumed responsibility for fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS). One of the primary reasons for the change was that WFD was experiencing major staffing challenges, resulting in response times that were often suboptimal. Voters in November, 2022 approved an increase of $1.1 million in property taxes to support the move from a primarily paid-on-call model to primarily paid-on-premises staffing. According to statistics recently released by the city Fire/EMS department, those decisions are paying off in the form of significantly reduced response times.
Dramatic reduction in response times
In the months of March through May of this year, between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., firefighter and EMS personnel were “out the door” in an average time of 1 minute and 35 seconds. The department reports, “Further, for 90% of our call volume during that period (240 of 267 calls), your Fire/EMS team was out the door in under three minutes.” By comparison, in 2021-2022, the “first turnout” was over five minutes, 40% of the time.
Improved response times a result of addition of full-time firefighter/EMTs
The department now employs 12 full-time firefighter/EMTs of different levels and certifications. Of those 12, seven were retained from WFD and hired as full-time employees. The other five were hired from the outside. Effective beginning in early April, three shifts are fully staffed with full-time employees. These three shifts include four firefighter/EMTs that staff an ambulance as well as either another ambulance or a piece of fire apparatus depending on the call.
EMS is seeking to upgrade to the paramedic level
EMS Chief Jason Dean indicates obtaining licensure upgrade to the paramedic level for the department is his main priority. The EMS personnel currently function as either EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) or AEMT’s (Advanced Emergency Medical Technicians.) Five of the responders are actually licensed as paramedics, but they can only function at that level if they are employed by a service that is licensed at that level, which Whitewater’s is not. Paramedics receive extensive training and are able to provide Advanced Life Support to patients. Per Dean, “The process [of obtaining department paramedic licensure] is inherently time consuming as research and data has to be collected. That data collection is nearly complete which will be followed by the drafting of a packet that outlines how we as a department will operate and provide Paramedic level Advanced Life Support service to our community. That packet will be submitted to city leadership and the Common Council. Once the draft upgrade packet is approved, it will be submitted to the State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services where it will be evaluated and hopefully approved. Once approved, Whitewater Fire & EMS Department will procure all needed for paramedic level service and a date will be set for transition to that level of service.”
First full-time fire chief in department history and other staff changes
Kelly Freeman is the first full-time fire chief in the department’s history, having assumed the role effective April 1. WFD’s part-time chief was elected by the members. Freeman was appointed to a part-time chief position when the city assumed responsibility for the department on July 30, 2022. Kelly’s employment in the city Streets, Parks & Forestry Department began in 2008 and he was promoted to superintendent in 2018. He joined the Fire Department in 2006, rising from lieutenant to captain and assistant chief.
Jason B. Dean, AEMT, was promoted in March to the part-time position of EMS chief. Dean joined the department in 2017 and has served as EMS lieutenant, captain and, most recently, interim chief. He retired as a Master Sergeant from the U.S. Marine Corps after twenty years of service, including multiple tours of duty in Iraq. His final duty station included serving as a Special Assistant to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Pentagon. Jason has been involved in EMS as an EMT since 2000 and has served on multiple departments nationwide throughout his military career. He volunteered at local fire departments at each duty station he was assigned to by the Marine Corps.
Ryan Dion was recently hired as part-time assistant fire chief. Dion joined the department in 2007 after completing active duty time in the U.S. Army with a deployment to Iraq. He graduated in 2009 from Blackhawk Technical College with an Associate degree in fire science. Ryan served as an EMT, fire inspector, lieutenant and captain with WFD before being promoted to assistant chief after the merger with the city. His main tasks as it relates to this position is assisting the chief with records management, overseeing the fire prevention program, and administering the fire training program. Dion works for the City of Waukesha Fire Department full-time, and has served there for over twelve years.
Joe Uselding is continuing in the role of 2nd assistant fire chief in a paid-on-call capacity.