Thanks to 24/7 staffing, Holmen Area Fire Department’s emergency response times are improving

The La Crosse and Holmen Area fire departments are sharing services under an agreement that was approved by the La Crosse Common Council in July

HOLMEN, Wis. (WKBT) – The Holmen Area Fire Department’s emergency response times are improving to levels not seen in a while.

The La Crosse and Holmen Area fire departments are in a partnership.

“We’re very pleased with how this new cooperation is going,” Holmen Area Fire Board president Patrick Barlow said.

In July, the La Crosse Common Council approved an agreement between both fire departments.

The agreement allows La Crosse and the Holmen area to share fire services.

“I think the main thing to share here as well is we shifted into a 24/7 coverage,” Barlow said.

The Holmen Area Fire Department did not have around-the-clock staffing before, which hurt its emergency response times.

According to a December 2020 report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum, the department took on average more than 10 minutes to respond to a call.

That is six minutes slower than the national average.

But since the department switched to 24/7 staffing, Barlow says response times are improving.

According to recent Holmen Area Fire Department data, the average response time for a fire has dropped to just under five minutes since August 29.

“Especially in those overnight hours, our response times have been much decreased,” Barlow said.

Pic Fire Dept Update

Wisconsin Policy Forum president Rob Henken says other fire departments throughout the state that have merged have saved them a lot of time and money.

“Mergers of departments are often a solution to these types of staffing challenges, because it’s an opportunity to spread that cost over multiple jurisdictions, and potentially make it more affordable for each department,” Henken said.

Still, the Holmen Area is lacking volunteer firefighters.

Barlow says the department has six full-time firefighters, but just 10 volunteers.

“We definitely need to move forward and increase our staffing,” Barlow said.

But help could come from neighboring Onalaska.

The Onalaska Fire Department is running a program with Western Technical College where high school students gain hands-on firefighting experience.

“We’re hoping that maybe recruiting from those local students from that program might be a way for us to help us in the future as well,” Barlow said.

Recruiting more firefighters is a priority for the future.

But the priority right now and always is ensuring a safe community.

“They deserve that, and they expect that,” Barlow said.

The shared-services agreement is set to expire in June of next year.

But Barlow says the fire board has begun negotiations to have a long-term agreement with La Crosse.

Since La Crosse fire chief Ken Gilliam took over as chief in the Holmen area, Barlow says former chief Buck Manley has been released from his role.

Recent emergency response time data can be found below.