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Boyceville fire district agrees to allow firefighters to continue electing fire chief, other officers

By LeAnn R. Ralph

BOYCEVILLE  —  Should the Boyceville Community Fire Department’s fire chief be elected by the firefighters or should the fire board appoint the fire chief?

That was the question considered by the Boyceville Community Fire District board at the February 10 meeting.

Paul Wathke, representative for the Town of Sherman, first brought up the issue of the fire board appointing the fire chief at the January meeting.

Under the existing structure, the Boyceville firefighters elect a fire chief and other officers, including an assistant chief, and the fire board confirms the election.

Wathke said he was concerned if the current fire chief had to leave the position for some reason that the fire district would have no control over who would be the next fire chief.

The fire district board has no assurances that the assistant chief elected by the firefighters is actually qualified to be the fire chief, Wathke said.

During a conversation after the January meeting, Brian Marlette, Boyceville fire chief, explained that the firefighters elect the assistant chief and other officers with “succession planning” in mind so that the person who is in a position to take over for the fire chief, if necessary, is prepared to do so.

Marlette said fire chiefs typically have succession planning in mind when working with their assistant fire chiefs so if the assistant needs to step in, he or she will be able to do the job.

The firefighters all work together, and they know, better than the fire district board, who is ready, willing and able to take over as fire chief if necessary, said Mike Blechinger, representative for the Town of Tiffany.

“I trust that they are voting for and electing the proper people … I think it should be left as it is,” he said.

A fire department must be run like a business, and like a business, it has a budget that must be managed, Wathke said.

When the firefighters elect the fire chief and the officers, the fire district has no assurances that the people in those positions know anything about writing and following a budget, he said.

Rich Monn, representative for the Town of Stanton, wondered if there was a job description for the fire chief, but Marlette said there was not.

All firefighters in Wisconsin are required to complete Firefighter Training I, which is a 44-hour class, Marlette said.

Additional training that is available is more appropriate for full-time career firefighters, and there is no benefit for volunteers to take additional training beyond the first course, he said.

Officer training (I, II, III) also is available for firefighters, Marlette noted.

Although there are no requirements for additional formal coursework, firefighters train regularly throughout the year and must periodically take refresher training.

The Boyceville fire department is a volunteer department, and right now, it is tough enough to get applications for firefighters without removing their ability to elect a fire chief and officers, Marlette said.

Managing the budget is part of the fire district board’s job, said Gilbert Krueger, representative for the Village of Boyceville and president of the fire district.

Board members are not experts about the fire department, and they rely on the expertise of the fire department officers to know what equipment is needed, he said.

The assistant chief may not want to step up, and the assistant chief does not know the financials, Wathke said.

Anytime there is a change in leadership, no matter what the organization, there is a regrouping. But the assistant fire chief expects to step up if needed, Krueger said.

Marlette agreed that the assistant fire chief always expects to have to take over if necessary.

“And the officers are informed on the budget and know what to do?” Blechinger asked.

The budget is not that complicated, Marlette said.

“If could learn to do it, I know they can do it. No doubt about it,” Marlette said.

Matt Feeney, director of the Boyceville ambulance service, noted that the state of Wisconsin allows fire districts to either appoint a fire chief or allows the firefighters to elect a fire chief and officers.

Either way, a fire chief has many responsibilities, including police powers. Wisconsin also has an officers’ manual that includes the training required, Feeney said.

A motion made by Wathke to change the fire chief to a position appointed by the fire district board died for the lack of a second.

A motion to leave the fire department as it is, with the firefighters electing the fire chief and officers, was approved on a vote of five “yes” to one “no.”

The Towns of Hay River, New Haven, Stanton, Tiffany and the Village of Boyceville voted in favor of the motion.

The Town of Sherman voted against the motion.

The Village of Wheeler did not have a representative at the meeting.

Fire station 

In other business, the Boyceville Community Fire District approved authorizing the five-year planning committee to proceed with writing a “request for proposals” to be sent out to architects for designing a new fire station.

Monn, chair of the five-year planning committee, said the committee would meet to work on the RFP and a list of architects and would bring the information back to the fire district board for approval. After the fire board approves, the RFPs will be sent out to architects.

Ambulance district 

During the ambulance district meeting that immediately followed the fire district meeting, board members learned the Boyceville ambulance service has contracted with the Red Cedar Speedway for a two-year period to provide a standby ambulance for every event at the speedway.

Last year, the Red Cedar Speedway paid $300 per event. The current contract includes a payment to the Boyceville ambulance service of $375 per event, Feeney said.

The ambulance district board also learned that Life Quest has collected $12,420.56 in unpaid ambulance bills so far this year.

The Boyceville Community Fire District meets next on March 16 at 6:30 p.m. The Boyceville Community Ambulance District will meet at 7 p.m. or immediately following the fire district meeting.