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Presque Isle Town Board discusses fire department consolidation options

April 17, 2020 by Kayla Houp

Presque Isle Fire and Emergency Medical Services was once again a heated discussion topic at the Presque Isle Town Board, despite it not being an agenda item.

During the board’s “Board Correspondence and/or Future Agenda Items” section of its agenda at the March 5 meeting, town supervisor Cathy Logan Weber mentioned she had a correspondence to share with the board.

“At the last town board meeting, and it’s in the minutes, it was brought up regarding the fire department incentives and regionalization, or working on something to help the sustainability of our fire department,” Logan Weber said. “We decided to have a special meeting to discuss that. Unfortunately, it ended up only being the incentives.”

Logan Weber said someone had emailed the Wisconsin Emergency Medical Services Association (WEMSA)  asking what was going on at the state level, and if anything could be done about it.

According to Logan Weber, WEMSA’s response cited “consolidation into regional services” as one of the strategies it was promoting, and that consolidating was “helping EMS services to survive.”

She then added the town’s EMS director, Donna Jukich, had invited WEMSA executive director Marc Cohen to a meeting of the fire chief and EMS director.

Logan Weber asked if town chair Marshall Reckard had spoken to Cohen.

“He called me,” Reckard said.

“And?” Logan Weber asked.

“He’s not coming to any meeting,” Reckard said.

“I realize that,” Logan Weber replied.

“First of all,” Reckard said. “They’re hanging their hat on Act 112, a Senate bill and an Assembly bill, and the Assembly bill didn’t pass.”

Reckard explained the Senate bill and the Assembly bill were for Wis. State Statute 69, which allows “a levy to be raised for emergency medical services.”

“On the fire side of the house in the town, as I showed you in the state chapter, it allows for, on the fire fighting side, to have regionalized fire service. When you read the section, for ambulance services, that is not there,” he said.

Reckard provided an explanation of state statutes which allowed for the consolidation of fire department services, but did not allow the ambulance services those same options.

County-wide ambulance services

In his explanation, Reckard mentioned a handful of counties in the State of Wisconsin which had county-wide ambulance services that also allowed those countys’ to “have a levy for ambulance services.”

“The only fire district that we have within Vilas County is Eagle River ... their ambulance service comes out of Eagle River Memorial Hospital,” Reckard said. “The last I had heard, this is a while back, that they, that fire district, pays Ascension Hospital $240,000 or $250,000 a year for Eagle River 91 ambulance service.”

Reckard said this was similar to how Arbor Vitae and Lac du Flambeau contracted with Howard Young for ambulance services.

“There was an attempt three or four years ago, a push and it smelled like county-wide ambulance services,” Reckard said. “... There was a push and it died. I don’t want to go into the politics and the people, and so forth.”

Reckard also mentioned a committee, at the county board level pushing “to have a paramedics service, and the push was to have paramedic service such as it is in Oneida County.”

“Oneida County ambulances all belong to Oneida County, excluding the City of Rhinelander,” he said.

“Do we need to go on?” Logan Weber asked.

“No, I’m telling you because why I went into it with him (Cohen),” Reckard said.

Reckard added there were only three ways, according to state statute, an ambulance service could be established in the town.

“I have my own, I can contract with another town, or I can contract with a third vendor,” he said. “On the fire side of the house, you could regionalize all four departments. Also remember up here, we have three fire departments and one fire company, totally different statues, so I don’t know where it stands.”

Reckard said he had spoken to WEMSA.

‘She made her own bed’

Still in the correspondence section of the agenda, Logan Weber said she had “information” from the Wisconsin Town’s Association (WTA).

“What I’m trying to do, as liaison to the fire department, what the fire department is trying to do is make our department sustainable and do what we can,” she said. “I appreciate what you’re saying, that it may not be there yet, but they certainly are trying to get that bill passed.”

She added the WTA had sent her information on various options the town could pursue.

“I’d like to pursue this. I’d like to learn more about it,” Logan Weber said.

“I’m biting my tongue,” Reckard said.

Logan Weber said the town “needed to look at this” and look at how the fire department could be sustainable.

“This is serious stuff,” she said.

Reckard told Logan Weber to “separate fire from EMS.”

“The fire departments have the ability, if they so wish, to regionalize,” Reckard said, adding he had spoken with Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua) about the issue.

Logan Weber asked if she should drop it.

“We’re not interested, they’re not interested,” Reckard said. “I’ve talked to some town chairs, assuming there was a companion bill put into chapter 60, where you could regionalize the ambulance services.”

Reckard shifted the discussion to a recent training course and how none of the new EMTs were from Presque Isle, which then turned into issues with recruitment.

“That’s not what we’re talking about,” Logan Weber said.

“Wait a second, you started this. The problem with the EMS in this town is who? And she made her own bed, and let her lie in it. That’s it,” Reckard said.

“Thank you for that, because I know that’s your opinion,” Logan Weber said.

“Damn right,” Reckard said. “And it’s everybody else’s.”

“No, it is not everybody else’s,” Logan Weber said.

“Who was the one that said that she did no damage, and then a month later, puts it in the newspaper that if she’d gone to the courts, she’d have lost her license because she committed fraud? And that was in The Lakeland Times. And that was you,” Reckard said. “Quote, unquote.”

Logan Weber said she didn’t know what Reckard was referring to.

Reckard continued and alleged an article in The Lakeland Times quoted Logan Weber as stating Jukich had committed fraud, when a formal complaint against Jukich stated Jukich had wrongfully altered the report for an ambulance call in 2019.

“No, I did not,” Logan Weber said. “I said that was what she was accused of.”

“That’s what was in the paper. That’s where it stands with WEMSA,” Reckard said, referring back to his conversation with Cohen

A search of The Times’ archives shows that no such article with the reference to Jukich by Logan Weber as a fraud exists.

“Well, I think we’re done with our conversation now,” Logan Weber said.

Kayla Houp may be reached via email at [email protected] com.

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