De Pere council adopts automatic aid for fire department
By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE – The area has a new group of firefighting heroes in its midst.
Well, sort of.
At its meeting Tuesday night, the De Pere Common Council unanimously voted to adopt an agreement for automatic aid between the communities of De Pere, Ledgeview, Bellevue, Lawrence, Ashwaubenon and Hobart, under the name of Fox River Fire District.
It’s an effort to beef up small fire departments.
“We said we’re having a hard time with these small departments to follow what the industry says is best practice, so what can we do to try to improve our service delivery to the customers we take care of? So that being said we all decided we need to find better ways to help each other out,” said De Pere Fire Chief Alan Matzke.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), any structure fire requires a team consisting of at least 17 firefighters, four fire engines, one ladder truck, an ambulance and fire chief on the scene.
It’s not uncommon for small communities like those in the area to not be able to muster a team that large together at any one time.
So three years ago, representatives from the De Pere Fire Department, Bellevue Fire and County Rescue, Ashwaubenon Public Safety, Lawrence Fire and Ledgeview Fire started meeting to figure out ways to combine their efforts and resources to meet NFPA recommendations and improve safety.
The group did a couple of trial runs, and then the Hobart Fire Department decided to hop on board as well, bringing the number of departments participating to six.
“Auto aid has been around for a while,” Matzke said. “Mutual aid means ‘Hey neighbor, if I need you, I’m going to call you. And if you need me, you call me.’ The next level up is auto aid, which means ‘if we get a call for a fire, then you get a call for a fire. We’re all in it together.’ That’s really what this agreement does.”
The agreement between the parties constitutes a policy for automatic mutual aid and involves sharing equipment and people, including specialized resources such as hazardous materials support, technical rescue support, loss control, rehab, command, utility, brush fire equipment and fire tenders, according to the agreement.
Aid is reciprocal, although a community won’t always get the same level of help it gives to the others, and the five fire departments decided to the agreement to help out each other without charging each other for their services.
“We all started to strategize: how can we do a better job of working together? How can we manage our resources better, how can we be more fiscally responsible to the taxpayer base?” Matzke said. “So with that, we all strive to follow a standard. In the world of fire, NFPA is sort of ‘best practices.’”
Wisconsin doesn’t officially adopt the NFPA as its standard, but De Pere and the other departments do try to adhere to its guidelines.
Another big aim of the endeavor was to define the geographical area that the departments are committed to covering, according to Matzke. The Fox River Fire District refers to the six participating communities of De Pere, Ledgeview, Lawrence, Hobart, Bellevue and Ashwaubenon.
He listed the number of times the departments within the district have called upon each other for help in the last two years. De Pere topped the list with 38 calls in 2017 for mutual aid, and 20 in 2016.
Ashwaubenon came in second, with 25 calls for mutual aid in 2016 and 26 in 2017. The others rang in with Lawrence, five in 2016 and four in 2017; Ledgeview, four in 2016 and six in 2017; Bellevue, six in 2016 and 16 in 2017.
Hobart, which joined only recently, called for assistance just once in 2017.