Should the Milton and Milton Township Fire Department rebuild on its current location or relocate and rebuild near the Milton Post Office?
The City of Milton owns land next to the post office (where youth play soccer) and across the street from the post office (where the ice rink gets set up and the school district has tennis courts).
The Joint Fire Commission is weighing building a station in one of those areas or staying at its current location. The government body made up of city council and town board members took no action on this Wednesday at city hall. Commission chair Theresa Rusch asked commission members to raise any questions they might have before the Jan. 15 meeting, where the topic will again be discussed.
City of Milton Mayor Anissa Welch said looking at two options does not eliminate other possibilities in the future.
Ernie Rhodes, who was named chief of both the Janesville Fire Department and Milton and Milton Township Fire Department in February, presented four maps: one showing the current fire station at 614 W. Madison Ave. and three showing proposed station locations. Two of the stations proposed would be shared with other fire departments.
“Remember this is all proposed, right? This is nothing in stone,” Rhodes emphasized.
A station at County Y and Overland Drive would be shared with Janesville and also was a consideration when Randy Banker was chief.
A station at 550 E. Jason Drive in Edgerton would be shared with Edgerton and was introduced as a new possibility for Milton.
“Maybe right now we should focus on do we want to rebuild where we are currently at or do we want to relocate,” Rhodes said.
That, he said, could be Phase I, and command staff could continue working on shared services.
“What are we going to do with our current station location?” Rhodes asked. “To me that’s our most pressing issue right now. What about now? We can control this resource. We can make this happen.”
Regardless of what Edgerton or Janesville does, he said, “This, we have to move on this. We have to make a decision on what do we want to do.”
Using data from the Rock County 911 Communications Center, the maps showed fire calls that exceeded an eight-minute response time. From the existing station, the department logged 79 such calls from January to July 2018 and 50 calls during the same period this year.
From the proposed location on Hilltop and Municipal drives, fewer calls had a response time of more than eight minutes. Sixty-six calls met that criteria from January to July 2018 and 47 calls from January to July 2019.
“Ideally this configuration for the Milton fire department would be, I think, the sweet spot,” Rhodes said.
By having a station in Milton and two shared stations, he said, “You would cover your growth areas the majority of your district where your calls, you would really utilize the partnerships that you currently have.”
Welch said the questions for the city would include are the locations in the city’s best interest and is there other development the city would want to see on Hilltop and Municipal drives.
Rusch said talks have not taken place with the city to outline what would be required there.
Commission member Jon Jennings questioned whether moving to a new location would be worth the cost.
Rhodes said, “If we decided to keep the current site, we need a new fire station. If you’re going to build a new fire station, you have an opportunity to move and to cover more calls. Even if it’s 3 and a half percent, it’s still a move in the right direction.”
Remember, he said, “We’re building fire stations for 50 years, not 10, so it’s a strategic decision, too.”
Rhodes emphasized the only way to improve response times is by changing the distance traveled.
The data presented on maps showed how to do that.
He said the proposed locations factor in not only call areas and partnerships but future development and industrial growth.
Rusch pointed to industrial growth on both ends of the city and the types of industry, including a couple that would require a significant amount of early response if something should happen.
“Putting a station in the center of town seems like a very good decision to me,” she said.
Doing something about the fire station built in the 1970s has long been a topic of discussion, but Welch said, “We’ve never gotten to this level or this far.”
Rhodes said he hasn’t spoken with the Edgerton Fire Department about this yet, but planned to talk to the Edgerton chief on Friday.