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Robert M. La Follette
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Students share costs, benefits of consolidated fire departments, EMS

La Follette School students shared their analysis of the costs and benefits for four municipalities to merge their fire departments and emergency medical services with officials in a December 17 presentation.

Fire chiefs and administrators for the town of Madison, village of Oregon, and the cities of Fitchburg and Verona heard from students in David Weimer’s cost-benefit analysis class. The chiefs are looking at consolidating the stations into one district to serve the rapidly growing region just south of the city of Madison.

Six students giving presentation in background with many audience members in foreground.

La Follette School students share their findings about consolidating fire and emergency services. Below, from left: Fitchburg mayor and 2002 La Follette School alum Shawn Pfaff, and students Jimmy Galindo, Angela Waltz, Andrew Kleps, Phil Sletten, Katie Biddick and Bryan Mette.

The students recommended the municipalities consolidate their fire and emergency medical services. The students only considered consolidation as an alternative to the current arrangement of services.

“The expanded EMS services, property insurance savings, and benefits associated with joint purchasing of apparatus and maintenance services provide substantial benefits to the community relative to the costs,” the students wrote. “The primary fiscal costs are associated with personnel changes.”

The group of six students spoke at Fitchburg city hall to about 75 people, among them Fitchburg mayor and 2002 La Follette alum Shawn Pfaff.

“With municipal budgets getting tighter and the demand for services getting greater, it is important for local governments to find ways to collaborate to lower costs and improve services,” Pfaff says. “That is why we needed La Follette students to provide us with an analytical road map through a detailed cost-benefit analysis to see if merging our three different departments made sense.”

The students were Katie Biddick, Jimmy Galindo, Andrew Kleps, Bryan Mette, Phil Sletten and Angela Waltz.

“About a third or half of the people listening were firefighters, paramedics and their respective officers,” Galindo says. “A lot of local alders, council members and other policymakers also showed. The audience seemed interested and receptive to our analysis and conclusions.”

The study estimated personnel costs based on information the fire chiefs provided. The costs involved creating a unified wage structure, phasing in 24-hour staffing at each station, repainting and rebranding apparatus, and providing uniforms and gear that identify the consolidated department.

The benefits include reduced mortality risk due to modified service areas, lower insurance costs for commercial property owners and reduced equipment costs.

Grad school recommends consolidation of fire services, January 2, 2013, Connect Fitchburg

Fire departments consider consolidation, December 10, 2012, Channel3000.com

Analysis course benefits state of Wisconsin, March 28, 2012, La Follette School News

A version of this article appears in the spring 2013 La Follette Notes.

— posted December 19, 2012; updated April 18, 2013