With 24/7 staff available, emergency response times for the Holmen area fire department are improving

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HOLMEN, Wis. (WKBT) – Emergency response times for the Holmen-area Fire Department are improving to levels not seen in some time.

The La Crosse and Holmen Area fire departments are in partnership.

“We are very happy with the way this new cooperation is going,” said Patrick Barlow, Chairman of the Holmen Area Fire Board.

In July, the La Crosse Common Council approved an agreement between the two fire departments.

The agreement allows La Crosse and the Holmen area to share fire departments.

“I think the main thing to share here as well is that we’ve moved to 24/7 coverage,” Barlow said.

The Holmen Area Fire Department was previously unstaffed, which hampered its emergency response times.

According to a December 2020 report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum, the department took an average of more than 10 minutes to answer a call.

That’s six minutes less than the national average.

But since the department moved to 24/7 staffing, Barlow says response times are improving.

Barlow was unable to provide exact data before the deadline.

“Especially during these overnight hours, our response times have been drastically reduced,” Barlow said.

Wisconsin Policy Forum chairman Rob Henken said other state fire departments that have merged have saved them a lot of time and money.

“Department mergers are often a solution to these types of staffing issues because it is an opportunity to spread that cost across multiple jurisdictions and potentially make it more affordable for each department,” said Henken.

Yet the Holmen region lacks volunteer firefighters.

Barlow says the department has six full-time firefighters, but only 10 volunteers.

“We absolutely have to go ahead and increase our numbers,” said Barlow.

But help could come from neighboring Onalaska.

The Onalaska Fire Department runs a program with Western Technical College where high school students get hands-on firefighting experience.

“We hope that perhaps recruiting these local students to this program could be a way for us to help ourselves in the future as well,” said Barlow.

Recruiting more firefighters is a priority for the future.

But the priority now and always is to ensure a safe community.

“They deserve it and they expect it,” Barlow said.

The shared services agreement is due to expire in June of next year.

But Barlow says the fire commission has started negotiations to strike a long-term deal with La Crosse.

Since La Crosse Fire Chief Ken Gilliam took over as chief in the Holmen area, Barlow has said former Chief Buck Manley has been removed from his post.

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