North Shore Fire Department staffing levels cut

Municipalities hampered by state mandated levy restrictions

May 18, 2012

Minimum staffing levels are expected to decrease in the North Shore Fire Department's five stations as officials brace for ongoing budgetary constraints.

Last week, the village presidents and Glendale mayor met at a Fire Board meeting to discuss regular staffing levels. The discussion bubbled to the surface with two firefighters currently on leave for medical and family reasons.

The department's 2012 contingency fund was set at $240,000, but quickly was slashed to $150,000 in December in the aftermath of a decision at the county level to reduce the amount of money allocated for emergency medical services. In April, Fire Chief Robert Whitaker said the contingency fund could be $70,000 over budget by the end of the year if current patterns continue.

Money in the contingency fund has been going toward overtime to compensate for the leaves of absence currently in place.

Whitaker last week presented the board with four options, and six of the seven board members voted in favor of an option to cut daily minimum staffing requirements. Brown Deer Village President Carl Krueger voted against the measure.

While the fine points are being worked out, Whitaker said the number of firefighters on the street will decrease on any given day. The reduction will be spread across the North Shore, not concentrated in one station.

Other scenarios Whitaker presented included making an additional hire and taking a budgetary loss to maintain existing staffing levels while covering for the employees on leave.

Fox Point Village President Mike West said municipalities are caught between a rock and a hard place at the moment because of state-mandated levy freezes.

"This problem exists because of issues beyond our control," he said. "We're capped on revenue, as far as I can tell."

The department is planning to hire a new firefighter by June 1 - a separate maneuver approved before last week's board meeting to fill a vacancy. Whitaker said the person hired will likely be trained in paramedic services.

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