Park Ridge to lose Fire Department

Published: Jun. 23, 2022 at 10:44 PM CDT
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PARK RIDGE, Wis. (WSAW) - The Village of Park Ridge in Portage County will no longer have an independent fire department as of July 1.

Fire Chief Brian Lepper submitted his resignation in February saying he couldn’t work under unsafe conditions, or ask his crew to do the same. He took the position as Chief eight years ago with the understanding that space and equipment would be upgraded. However, he said that never happened, despite attempts to do so in the past.

“There’ve been two public hearings, one advisory referendum, one engineering study, and an architect firm hired to build the building,” Lepper said.

Currently, the department’s three trucks barely fit in the tiny bay attached to the Park Ridge Village Hall.

“Our training tells us before you leave on a call, the driver is supposed to do a complete 360 of that truck. We can’t do a 360 unless we pull the truck outside,” Lepper said.

Only one of the apparatuses actually fights fires. It was built in 1993. There’s also a hose wagon circa 1980 and a command center from 1974. The village relies on neighboring municipalities for additional support.

“There has not been enough investment in those things over the years by the Village, which is not unusual for municipalities our size,” said Village President and Trustee Steve Menzel.

Right now the village is negotiating a contract to be covered by the City of Stevens Point Fire Department as a stop-gap. That will ensure they continue to have backup from around the county.

“In the coming months we’ll be exploring what our options are for long-term coverage for fire protection,” said Menzel.

For firefighter A.J. Hawley, it’s not only preserving the place he’s from. It’s the involvement in the community he’ll miss.

“The Christmas visits by Santa that the FD does, hanging flags on memorial day and getting them all setup, helping with rummage sales, just doing everything. It was a community event,” Hawley said.

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