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Chief Barteck presents evidence of the effects of short staffing to City

Published: Nov. 15, 2021 at 9:56 PM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Wausau Fire Chief Bob Barteck presented video evidence of the staffing struggles facing his department at Wausau’s Public Health and Safety Committee Monday night.

The video the Chief presented showed firefighters having to do double-duty, even having to wait for another engine to arrive in order to start putting out the fire. The Chief and even the committee said the need for firefighters is urgent.

“That video shows how short-handed we are,” Barteck said. He broke down a roughly five-minute video of firefighters working to put out a fire that happened Nov. 11. During the video he pointed out where more personnel would’ve benefited what firefighters were working with.

“When you have a two firefighter engine company, it’s horrific how little of effectiveness they are,” the Chief said. Two firefighters per engine mean not being able to go into the house for search and rescue upon arrival. Luckily everyone was out of the house when they arrived, but that’s not always the case which adds to the response time when seconds matter most.

“They’re going into an extremely dangerous environment at that point, he’s got to have a RIT team on the exterior of the structure in order to provide that rescue element as they go in to do their work,” Barteck explained.

That was just one of the challenges he pointed out, but said was the most dramatic. “It’s difficult for me as a chief because I realize my people are not in the safest environment they could be while they are already doing extremely difficult and dangerous work.”

The National Fire Protection Association suggests every fire department has four firefighters per engine. But Barteck is settling to have three. “Honestly, I didn’t feel like the city could financially afford to add that much on the fire department budget,” he said. Mentioning that three would suffice the need the department is facing now.

The nine additional firefighters would call for an extra one million dollars to the department’s already $8.1 million. The additional staff could also lower insurance premiums for people in Wausau. This is done by getting evaluated by the Insurance Security Office (ISO), which looks at a number of different things within departments. Based on the findings, departments are then given a Public Protection Classification (PPC). Right now, Wausau’s Fire Department is rated a two out of ten.

“The higher the rating, which the rate class goes from 1 to a 10-- and once you get up to that 9, 10 area, the premiums can increase significantly in a homeowners policy,” Insurance agent at Thompson Durkee Insurance Agency, Jane Klopack said.

Barteck said his goal is to get the rating to a 1.

The Health and Safety Committee decided it will make a recommendation to HR and the finance department to hire the nine additional firefighters. those two departments would then work out the timeline and budget part for hiring.

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