Come Together

An analysis of fire department consolidation in Milwaukee County's North Shore

October 2015


Twenty years ago, leaders from Milwaukee County’s seven North Shore municipalities (Bayside, Brown Deer, Fox Point, Glendale, River Hills, Shorewood, and Whitefish Bay) made the bold decision to share fire and emergency medical services. Relinquishing local control, they created a consolidated department under a shared governance structure to replace their freestanding departments and serve the entire North Shore region.

This decision followed more than a decade of discussion and negotiation, and it was finally prompted by poorly coordinated responses to a pair of major fires and a threat from the City of Milwaukee to charge substantial fees for mutual aid. Despite concerns about equitable service levels and cost sharing, elected officials ultimately determined that consolidation would produce a higher level of fire and rescue services for a lower cost than would be possible if each community continued to provide those services on its own.

On the 20th anniversary of the creation of the North Shore Fire Department (NSFD), this report explores whether the consolidated department has delivered on that promise. Using budget documents and analyses from the past and present – as well as interviews with North Shore leaders who participated in the consolidation effort and who preside over the consolidated department today – we explore whether dollars have been saved and service levels have improved.