Possible La Crosse-Holmen Fire Department merger on the way? It’s in discussion

Holmen fire board listening to recommendations on how to effectively improve emergency services in the Holmen community

TOWN OF HOLLAND, Wis. (WKBT) – In light of Holmen Area Fire Department Chief Buck Manley being put on paid administrative leave, the fire board is discussing recommendations to improve emergency services.

That includes bringing in an adequate number of firefighters.

The Holmen Area Fire Department is struggling.

Wisconsin Policy Forum data shows emergency response times are well below national standards.

Right now, only five firefighters in the department are full-time. The other 10 are part-time.

“I think all three communities are sincerely looking for the best interest of their citizens,” Holmen village president Patrick Barlow said.

The Holmen Fire Board is looking at ways to most effectively improve emergency services, and make the community feel safe.

“That’s why we’re taking these measures to understand what we can do to best serve them,” Barlow said.

Robert Whitaker from McMahon Group, an engineering-consultant firm overseeing administration with the department, is recommending a model of three full-time firefighters available 24/7.

He says the department would need about double the amount of full-time staff to make it work.

“We would start with a base of full-time firefighters, and would still definitely need paid on-call firefighters,” Barlow said.

The model is part of a pending shared-services agreement with the La Crosse Fire Department, where a select number of staff would help out in Holmen in the short-term.

“We’re looking at opportunities with our staffing, kind of a deeper bench of available firefighters,” La Crosse fire chief Ken Gilliam said.

Gilliam did not rule the La Crosse Fire Department possibly overseeing temporary administration.

“Regional fire districts are becoming more of the norm,” Gilliam said.

Could we soon see a La Crosse-Holmen Area Fire Department? That would be something new, but too early to tell yet.

“But certainly, there’s a sense of optimism that we might be able to get a win for public safety, for all communities involved,” Gilliam said.

Gilliam says the agreement could start June 1 and last up to 18 months.

It’s to be determined if La Crosse would get reimbursements from the agreement.

Meanwhile, Barlow says Chief Manley could be recalled to his position at any given time.