Holmen Area Fire Department will have 24/7 staffing under new shared services agreement

Most of the firefighters in the department around Holmen are paid on-call volunteers

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – A new fire chief is leading the Holmen Area Fire Department.

The Holmen Area Fire District and the La Crosse Fire Department have reached an agreement to share fire services.

For at least the next year, La Crosse fire chief Ken Gilliam is now also the head of the Holmen Area Fire Department.

The fire board in Holmen put its fire chief, Buck Manley, on paid administrative leave three months ago, and what this new agreement comes down to is improving safety for both departments.

“It’s certainly uncharted territory around here,” Gilliam said. “My first time doing it.”

But this new partnership could be a necessary change.

“We’re seeing less and less people applying for public safety positions,” Gilliam said.

Staffing and emergency response times have been lagging in the Holmen area for years.

Most firefighters working in the Holmen area are paid-on call volunteers.

A report released in December of 2020 by the Wisconsin Policy Forum found the department’s emergency response times are six minutes slower compared to national standards.

“With a volunteer agency if you think about it, you’re reliant on volunteers,” Gilliam said. “Every once in a while, the stars align and nobody can answer that call.”

Gilliam says there will be at least three firefighters working around the clock in the Holmen area going forward.

“With dedicated staff sitting in that station, you know help is coming,” Gilliam said.

Holmen will pay La Crosse nearly $15,000 a month for its services through December. That cost will go up about three percent starting next year.

“We’re not dumping the entire City of La Crosse Fire Department to go fight a fire in Holmen or are they doing the same,” Gilliam said. “It’s really a rig for a rig.”

Both departments believe it’s all a fair trade to respond quicker to an emergency, and make for a safer area.

“I absolutely believe that it will be better for all communities involved,” Gilliam said.

Gilliam says he is hoping to have four firefighters on duty around the clock in the Holmen area sometime next year.

He thinks the agreement will turn out to be cost-effective for both departments.

The chief says both fire departments can back out of the agreement if sharing services doesn’t go well. The current contract is set to expire on June 20 of next year.