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SAFER Fire District for Weston and Rib Mountain is approved


RIB MOUNTAIN, WI (WSAU) -  It’s official. Rib Mountain and Weston are going to create a joint fire district called the South Area Fire and Emergency Response District or SAFER. A joint meeting of the Town of Rib Mountain and Village of Weston boards and their two fire chiefs made a presentation to a crowded Rib Mountain Municipal Center Tuesday evening.

There were several comments and questions from firefighters, a union representative, and residents of both municipalities. Most of the questions centered on future staffing, identifying the cost savings, and why this plan seem to happen almost overnight. Rib Mountain Chairman Allen Opall assured the audience that this has been discussed by both municipalities for about a year and a half, although much of it was during closed session since it involves contractual issues.

Rib Mountain Supervisor Fred Schaefer says expenses keep going up and revenues like state aids keep going down, so creating the new SAFER district will save both communities money.  Schaefer is also pleased with the increase level of both fire and emergency medical service by combining their resources.

Weston Fire Chief Steve Meilahn and Rib Mt. Fire Chief Paul Wirth gave a presentation to the crowd before the public comment period.  Meilahn says many of the pieces are already in place because of their existing mutual aid agreements.

Wirth says they know capital savings will be immediate, such as equipment and trucks. He says staffing decisions need to be made before the total savings is known.

The new SAFER Board consists of Fred Schaefer and Town Chairman Allen Opall from Rib Mountain, and Barbara Ermeling and Village President Loren White.  Fire Chief Wirth says that board has some immediate tasks, including establishing an interim chief and establish the commission, and the process for hiring the new department.  Then they can evaluate the training levels and other things they need to accomplish.

One big question is, “Who will be the chief?”  Rib Mountain Chief Paul Wirth says he’s ok with whatever the board decides.  "The respect that Steve and I have for each other, if I work for him, I'm fine with that.  If he works for me, he's fine with that.  There are no qualms between us.  Our goal is to do what's right."The SAFER Fire District charter is written so that other fire departments can join them if desired. 2013 seems to be the year of municipal service coordination or collaboration to maintain or improve service while saving money. Rothschild and Weston are preparing to combine their police departments. In nearby Portage County, they are merging the Stevens Point and Portage County emergency dispatch centers and they might combine the municipal bus and paratransit service with the Aging & Disability Resource Center’s elderly transportation routes by the end of the year. A proposal to have the Wood County Sheriff’s Department provide police service to Grand Rapids was turned down by voters.