Wausau Fire Chief seeks help from city due to critical staffing shortage

Published: Nov. 9, 2021 at 10:23 PM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Last month, NewsChannel 7 reported the staffing shortages fire departments in Central Wisconsin are facing. Now, Wausau Fire Chief, Bob Barteck is taking that conversation a step further.

Chief Barteck said the staffing shortage at the Wausau Fire Department is becoming critical and a public safety concern. “The public needs to be aware of the weaknesses inside the Wausau Fire Department.”

The chief explained that the department’s staff has increased just 3.3% in the last 51 years. In 1970, the department had 60 staff. In 2021, the department has 62. He also explained that the staff size they have now doesn’t meet sustain the department’s increase in call volume. In 1970 the department was seeing 2,138 calls for service. In 2020, the calls for service increased by 200.3% or 6,318 calls.

“In 1970, the fire department was drastically different than what it is today, it was all about putting a band-aid or bandage on someone, putting them in the back of the Cadillac and driving fast to the hospital,” Barteck explained.

Now, the department is considered to be at one of the top levels of pre-hospital care. “The bulk of our work is actually 90 percent of our call volume is with our ambulances, it’s our EMS calls,” the Chief said.

On Nov. 2, the Wausau Fire Department had 37 EMS calls in the span of 24 hours.

“So our crew just pivots, they do their best to keep up with the call demands they try to turn over the calls that they are on as quickly as they can while providing good quality care,” Chief Barteck said. “But at the same time try to become available for that next call because they realize all the other med units in the community are busy.”

The department currently has a minimum of 15 firefighters working per shift, but Bartek wants that number to go up to 18. That means hiring 9 extra people.

The chief said the need is so critical that this is the first time he’s had to ask for help.

“It’s an incredibly humbling thing to show our weaknesses inside our department, but its the time that it needs to be brought forward and it’s the right time to begin conversations.”

Barteck said the conversation is going to continue. Now that the council and community are aware of the problem, his next steps are to take the proposal to the health and safety committee on Nov. 15.

To read the full in-depth information Chief Barteck explained to the committee, click here.

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