Thursday, November 8, 2007

Why not consolidate the Kenosha Fire Department?

Kenosha Fire Chief John Thomsen is a good guy but his costly and secretive plan to "relocate" four city fire stations -- three of them newer facilities -- flies in the face of good logic, public safety and the public's right to know.

Thomsen wants the city to spend about $10 million over five years to "relocate" four fire stations including Washington Park and Uptown and the northside station at 2615 14th Place and the southside one at 8530 30th Avenue.

Details are sketchy about where the replacement facilities would be built but Thomsen indicated that the Washington Park and Uptown Stations would be consolidated.

The first problem with Thomsen's plan is its secrecy. If the city council is being asked to ante up for new fire stations, then the public has every right to know exactly what's being proposed. It's morally wrong to play politics with public safety. There is no excuse not to give the public ALL of the information, period. None.

Thomsen offers some odd explanations. For example, he wants to "equalize response times" across the city.

At first blush that sounds good but it's could simply be a smokescreen.

In perhaps the only unforgivable act during his 16 years as mayor, John Antaramian closed the downtown fire station (leaving only an ambulance crew there). That meant that the Uptown and Washington Park stations had to pick up the slack and undoubtedly response times east of Sheridan Road increased.

The reason this was done was because the city kept gobbling up land and expanding west without hiring enough firefighters. Of course the politicians didn't want to tell the people the truth about this. The downtown firefighters were assigned to other stations to pick up the slack. This, too, was morally wrong and an abdication of responsibility to the safety of the community.

The northside and southside stations are newer but Thomsen wants to close them because he says they're located close to, respectively, Somers and Pleasant Prairie and the city isn't growing to the north or to the south.

In fairness, there were some reservations when those stations were built that maybe the city should have gotten together with Somers and Pleasant Prairie to construct joint facilities. That never happened because, as just about everyone knows, the city isn't known for warmly embracing intergovernmental cooperation. (In that sense, Thomsen arguably could just be trying to rectify earlier screwups.)

However, there is growth in both the north and south parts of the city and relocating those stations makes no sense. The rest of the city shouldn't place its safety in jeopardy simply because the politicians at city hall failed to plan for the city's westward expansion and are too bullheaded to sit down and work out agreements with neighboring communities.

Of course, Thomsen simply may be trying his darndest to make the best out of a bad situation and it may be unfair to skewer him. While he may just be a good guy caught in the middle of this political boondoggle it doesn't make his plan any better. (That's said now because before becoming chief Thomsen was a fireman's fireman.)

In fact, since the city, Somers and Pleasant Prairie are growing together, maybe it's time to consider a metropolitan fire protection district or perhaps even a county fire department.(Remember that tax equity study that shows that the city and Pleasant Prairie send more money to the county than these communities get back in services?)

But don't look for consolidation to happen because, for one thing, the communities would have to decide who would be the chief.

The only thing I can say to that is that at least Paul Guilbert in Pleasant Prairie and Steve Krause in Somers haven't played politics with public safety.


Anonymous said...

Why stop at the fire departments? Could the police departments also be consolidated?

RAG said...

From an urban planning and administration standpoint, metropolitan policing is much more difficult to implement and execute. That's the reason it was specifically excluded from Unigov when that concept was first instituted by Dick Lugar.

Also, you don't usually have police stations from different cities a stone's throw from each other. Fire stations are neighborhood based.

Village People said...

Not in Pleasant Prairie; does anyone remember the County dispatch and Sheriff fiasco? I do see some benifits as I think the County could contract with Pleasant Prairie to plow County roads within the Village as they do a much better job of plowing and would be able to respond more quickly thus freeing up County plows for the nether regions.

RAG said...

Pleasant Prairie should have offered the old snow plow as a gift to the city along with lessons on how to use it.