Holmen Area Fire Department chief placed on paid administrative leave; village leaders point to struggles with the department

Village president says the move was made based on two key reports on the Holmen Area Fire Department and a pending shared-services agreement with the La Crosse Fire Department

HOLMEN, Wis. (WKBT) – Holmen village president Patrick Barlow says based on two key reports on the Holmen Area Fire Department and a pending shared-services agreement with the La Crosse Fire Department, Chief Buck Manley has been placed on administrative leave with pay.

“I think we are doing a very effective job in terms of what resources we have now,” Barlow said.

In December of last year, the Wisconsin Policy Forum released a report addressing the state of fire and emergency management services in the La Crosse Region.

“They’ve been looking at all issues related to the fire department operation,” Barlow said.

There are some glaring holes in Holmen.

According to the report, the fire department has a total of 15 firefighters.

It is averaging about three calls for service a day.

But the average time it takes crews to respond to an emergency is more than 10 minutes.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, the national standard for emergency response is four minutes.

“We are noticing an increase in the amount of several fires within the region over the last six months,” Barlow said.

Barlow says the department has been struggling to react quickly to emergencies in part because some of the calls happen during off-hours.

Out of the 15 total firefighters on staff, 10 are volunteers.

There used to be 30 volunteer firefighters.

“I think that’s been the struggling issue for us,” Barlow said.

On top of the report from the policy forum, the department has also been getting feedback and advice from McMahon Group, a Wisconsin-based engineering consultant firm.

“The fire board thought it was important that we get an even more in-depth study of particularly the Holmen Area Fire Department,” Barlow said.

Barlow says the fire board is allowing McMahon to work with the La Crosse Fire Department to try to develop a plan to improve services.

“It would just involve a lot better coordination,” Barlow said.

Barlow says an agreement of this type could mean a possible merger between the two departments.

“And that’s really not the aim of these discussions at this point,” Barlow said.

He is not sure if Chief Manley is in support of the agreement, and would not comment if that led to him being placed on leave.

Barlow says McMahon Group will oversee administration with the fire department for the time being.

News 8 Now did contact Chief Manley for comment on this situation, but we did not hear back.