Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A whole forest of moose droppings...

...to Kenosha Fire Chief John Thomsen for trying to justify the unjustifiable with logic even more stupifying than his proposed fire station closure/relocation plan.

Bear in mind that Thomsen's plan is being pitched on a perceived need to "equalize response times" to fire calls in the city.

Of course, that was never an issue before (1) the downtown fire station was decommissioned and (2) the city expanded westward without adequate provision for public safety services.

But, for just a moment, let's take Thomsen at his word.

At last night's city council finance committee meeting Alderman Ron Frederick questioned why the downtown station wasn't part of the plan especially with population growth downtown and along the city's lakefront.

Thomsen's response: "The numbers show the call volume is somewhat flat in this particular area."

Excuse me. Let's try that one again.

Thomsen said "the call volume is somewhat flat."

So, the pitch is being made to close and relocate other fire stations to "equalize response times" but the "call volume" is why downtown station isn't justified.

Say what?

You'd think a fire chief would be delighted when the call volume is flat. That might mean, among other things, that fire prevention preached by his very own fire department could be working.

But nonetheless we have fire stations in neighborhoods so that when there is a fire or other emergency there will be a prompt response to the call.

That's not to say that the number of calls in a given area is of no concern to the city. A particularly heavy call volume for one station would, for example, indicate a need for increased staff and equipment at that station.

As one police chief put it, "You may only need us 15% of the time. You tell me when that 15% is and that's when we'll work."

The response to Alderman Frederick's question was as lame as the closure/relocation plan. But that hasn't deterred City Administrator Nick Arnold and Alderman Frank Pacetti, chairman of the finance committee, from keeping the embers of this ridiculousness alive.

Pacetti thinks people with support this plan "in droves" if they're "educated" about it.

The people who need to be educated are the ones at city hall who want to play politics with public safety. Shame on them.

As for Thomsen, his retort to Alderman Frederick bring to mind an incredibly stupid telephone call then-Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus received during a "call-in" program on Wisconsin Public Radio.

The caller suggested that the state could save money by letting lesser-traveled roads "go to seed."

Dreyfus told the caller that he should take that idea to the people who live on those road and then "let me know what hospital you're in so that I can come and visit you."

That said, it's really painful to beat up on Thomsen who was, as a captain, a fireman's fireman -- a guy who cared deeply about protecting people from fire and who wouldn't ask his subordinates to do anything he wouldn't.

But Thomsen clearly blundered here. Badly.

True, just because a fire station was built at a particular location 50 years ago doesn't mean it should stay in that exact spot. For example, the old uptown station was a couple of blocks to the west of the present one.

And there is some precedent for consolidating fire stations as was done when the city closed the small 52nd Street and 7th Avenue stations when newer, larger facilities became available.

But the city's streets, traffic patterns and neighborhoods have been fairly constant so having fire stations on Roosevelt and Washington Roads cannot all of the sudden be an illogical or improper situation. However, these stations were all predicated on having a downtown station at city hall as has been the case since the early history of the city.

As the city grew new fire stations were built in new neighborhoods to the north, south, Forest Park and now further west by the airport.

Hindsight being 20-20, more thought could have gone into some of these newer facilities.

Joint facilities with Somers and Pleasant Prairie could and should have been explored. In the case of Thomsen's wise idea to built a new station west of Interstate 94, the city and Pleasant Prairie need to work together to explore whether a joint facility would make sense as both communities are growing to the west.

Further, the downtown station should never have been closed. That was an inexcusable move -- one of the few boners Mayor John Antaramian pulled during his 16 years on the job -- and one which needs to be reversed. The "call volume" argument Thomsen offers to justify keeping the downtown station closed is pure hogwash and it should not be dignified with any serious consideration. (In fairness to Thomsen, the downtown fire station was decommissioned under his predecessor's watch.)

Perhaps the biggest boner here was to drop this bombshell on the community at the last minute without first getting public input and consensus. That was plain dumb.

City Administrator Nick Arnold is a smart guy but smart doesn't always mean common sense. This plan is utterly devoid of common sense -- as was the decision to close the downtown fire station -- and Arnold and his boss, the mayor, should be held accountable. You don't play politics with public safety.

Part of the city's planning for westward growth should have been providing for public safety needs. You don't take care of the west side of the city by giving the proverbial middle finger to the east side which is the functional equivalent of the message sent when the downtown station was closed.

There is honor at times in conceding that an idea isn't as good as it seemed when it was proposed and it takes a lot of character to publicly own up to that. That's what the mayor, city administrator and fire chief need to do here. It's not too late.

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