Fire and Emergency Medical Services in Greater Racine

Considering Options for the Future

November 2019


While considerable attention has been devoted in recent months to the precise nature and scope of the Foxconn development in Racine County, far less attention has been paid to the impacts on local governments in the region. Those governments will need to develop and implement strategies to expand a variety of public services that will be needed to serve the new facility, its workers, and potential ancillary development.

Under the premise that Greater Racine’s local governments would be better off working together than individually to address growing service delivery challenges, members of the Resilient Communities Roundtable, comprised of the region’s top elected leaders and administrators, commissioned the Wisconsin Policy Forum to conduct a high-level scan of municipal services in the region that would identify which were most conducive to enhanced sharing or consolidation. That initial report – released in September 2018 – identified three such service areas: fire and emergency medical services (EMS), parks and recreation, and public health.

This report represents a next step in the inquiry into the potential benefits associated with intergovernmental cooperation in Greater Racine by providing a detailed analysis of the potential for enhanced sharing or consolidation of fire and EMS services in the region. Commissioned again by the Resilient Communities Roundtable, this report explores the current state of the three existing departments and opportunities for improvement through greater collaboration. The Johnson Foundation, which convenes and facilitates Resilient Communities Roundtable discussions, provided partial underwriting for this study.

If policymakers were seeking to create a new fire and EMS service in 2019 from scratch for eastern Racine County, it likely would not look like the current system. The three existing departments – the Racine Fire Department, Caledonia Fire Department, and South Shore Fire Department – provide a high level of service that has generated very few citizen concerns. Yet, in some cases, municipal boundaries preclude optimal response, and the absence of a regional approach creates some service-level inefficiencies that might be rectified with a more collaborative approach to service delivery.

With development in and around the Foxconn site and continuous pressures on municipal budgets, this is an atmosphere ripe for change. The three fire departments now focus primarily on responding to EMS calls, yet they must be prepared to handle the occasional fire response and maintain readiness for complex rescue or hazard response. Maintaining appropriate capacity to meet each of these responsibilities provides unique challenges for each department. Furthermore, in the future, there will likely be increased costs for personnel and equipment, and a continued trend of increasing call volume as the population ages and the region likely gains both population and higher-risk environments.

This study concludes that the communities should work together in a tighter partnership to address the future needs of their constituents. Several potential options are explored, ranging from the status quo to joining into a single department, with several intermediate possibilities.

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