Firefighters: Holmen Area Fire Dept. morale at all-time low

Firefighters said changes need to start at the top with the Fire Chief

It’s budget season, and there is a big debate surrounding the Holmen Area Fire Department.

The department responds to calls in Holmen, as well as the town of Holland and town of Onalaska. The three municipalities are trying to find a budget that works, but there are other concerns, too.

The Holmen Area Fire Association Board is made up of representatives from all three municipalities the fire department serves, and on Tuesday night, it held a special session to discuss the 2016 budget.

The board president, Rolly Boguert, said going into the Tuesday night meeting the village of Holmen wanted to cut two full-time firefighters. While that might not seem like much, that would be cutting half of the full-time staff.

On top of figuring out that, the board is trying to finalize a new agreement between the municipalities to help put money into a reserve fund for replacement costs.

“The current agreement just splits everything, one-third, one-third, one-third. It doesn’t take into consideration equalized value. It doesn’t into consideration anything else. It’s just one-third, one-third, one-third,” Bogert said.

Several firefighters stood up at the meeting to say the two positions should not be cut, and there needs to be a change at the top, meaning the fire chief.

The chief makes about $85,000 a year, which is nearly 20 percent of the departments operating budget each year, while the two positions that would be cut only make $60,000 a year combined.

“It needs to start from the top. Most businesses start at the top as far as wages go. We need to start at the top, cut some wages, that will help morale. We can get back on track,” Lt. Tony¬†Kropelin, of the fire department, said.

Kropelin and several firefighters said morale is at an all-time low in the department, mostly stemming from issues with the current fire chief. There were two or three firefighters that even said if something doesn’t change, they will turn in their pager and resign.

The Holmen fire chief declined to comment after the meeting but did submit his own budget proposal to the fire board. His proposal would include a reduction in his salary in order to keep a four person full-time staff.

A vote is expected to take place in late October. The board said it would discuss, in closed session, personnel decisions at the October meeting.