Dodge County bands together to discuss future of emergency services (2022)

JUNEAU – Dodge County Supervisors, city officials, firefighters and emergency medical service providers met on Wednesday to discuss issues facing the service that provides first responders to those needing life-saving help.

Many arrived with the same message: more personnel is needed to fill the positions.

Dodge County Emergency Management Director Amy Haase said in 2020 a study was done to bring awareness to how EMS and first responders run in Dodge County.

“According to state statutes, towns shall provide these services,” Haase said. “Whereas villages and cities may provide these services, and we have all had the discussion and know what our tax levy and struggles are with some of those things.”

Haase said there were different levels of services, including: paramedics, emergency medical technicians and emergency medical responders, and they require different levels of training.

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“Our calls continue to go up every year,” Haase said. “I am sure every agency in here would agree with that statement.”

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Haase said that the study of the EMS services was slowed down by the pandemic; however, it gained interest again after American Plan Act Funds were given to the county, and there was discussion if some assistance to the EMS services would be a valuable use of the funding.

“Counties are allowed to go above the levy limit to run a county-wide EMS,” Haase said. “While the municipalities that are running their own EMSs, if they have to go above the revenue limit, they have to put out a referendum. We saw some of those recently last night in the elections.”

There are counties that have county-run EMS, there are counties on a hybrid and counties discussing it, Haase said.

Dodge County Board Supervisor David Guckenberger said that he sees in his own township that many departments are volunteer and there is a mix of services throughout the county.

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“We had what I felt was a golden opportunity,” Guckenberger said. “We had $17 million come to the county through these ARPA funds. We reached out to all the communities and municipalities and said, ‘What ideas do you have?’ Well, I said county-wide EMS, not knowing what that would mean, how it would look like or how it would happen.”

Dodge County Board of Supervisors Chairperson David Frohling said he felt everyone was there for the right reason — to find the best options. However, they would have to be aware of what could be done within budgets to be sustainable into the future.

“We need to get your opinion on what EMS would look like five years from now or 10 years from now,” Frohling said.

The ARPA funds have to be committed in 2024 and spent by 2026, Frohling said. About half the funds have already been earmarked for other projects around the county.

Current situation

Those in attendance agreed on the biggest struggle that both the EMS and fire departments were facing was a lack of personnel.

Guckenberger asked if equipment was a concern for the department.

Beaver Dam Fire Chief Michael Wesle said that there was a need for replacing equipment, but the main issue all the departments were facing was personnel.

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“The main problem is recruitment and retention,” Wesle said. “We are going on five hires, four of them I have to put through paramedic training. People are coming into the service now, they don’t have the level of education and training we had 15 to 20 years ago when people were fighting and scraping for full-time positions. And the same can be said for my paid on-call members. We just are not seeing people coming on credentials.”

Guckenberger said that map shows coverage but not if there is full-time coverage.

“I think everyone in the room is aware of the difficulty we are facing,” Christine Churchhill, Communication Director for the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office and the EMS Director of Mayville.

“We are not unique, and it is not for lack of leadership or that but take a look around this room. There are very few young people in this room. It appears that volunteerism is going down, and it is not because people aren’t good people. Their kids are starting dance at age 3. They have busy lives. They are working two jobs to survive.”

It’s difficult for the 911 dispatchers to realize who has a crew or does not have a crew and which departments are covering for another department, Churchhill said.

“I want to listen, and I want to have a conversation, because when I am listening with the perspective of my 911 dispatch center, which is my priority, I need to make sure when I call or when your family calls that we are getting ambulances out the door, and sometimes it is scary right now,” Churchhill said. “It will be one ambulance available in the northeast part of the county, and that is darn scary.”

Guckenberger said he doesn’t believe everyone needs paramedic service, but there are a lot of communities that do not have 24-hour-a-day coverage.

Barb Jascor, Dean of Health and Human Services for Moraine Park Technical College, said there are 17 people in the entire district who are taking the EMT for the fall. If you add the high school class, Hartford has 14 and West Bend/Kewaskum will have a class with 14.

Working together

Moraine Park Technical College had representation and said they were looking at offering an afternoon session at the Beaver Dam campus for EMTs, which will allow high school students to attend the classes through Start College Now, which has funding that comes from the high schools.

“We are trying to reach them at a younger age to get that credential so they stay in their communities and be able to provide those services,” said Latisha Spence-Brookens, Associate Dean of Human Services for Moraine Park.

“Does it make sense for us to work on our own to solve this program or does it make more sense for us to work as a group?” Wesle said. “I think it makes more sense to work as a group.”

Wesle said that everyone’s problems were not the same, but they all have the same problem of finding people for the position.

“I don’t believe we are in the position for everyone to solve their own problems, but I also don’t think we are in the position to reinvent the wheel,” Wesle said.

Haase asked if there were some who would want to work together as a small group. They would continue work on the idea to create a model of EMS that would function well in the future and several people agreed to join the committee.

“I had at least eight people tell me last night to put me on the list, and I asked them to follow up with an email…as of noon on Thursday I have six volunteers,” Haase said.

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Follow Terri Pederson on Twitter @tlp53916 or contact her at 920-356-6760.

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  • Amy Haase
  • Dodge County
  • David Guckenberger
  • Economics
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