Galesville chief: City should consider full-time lead job for volunteer fire department

At September’s Galesville city council meeting, a volunteer firefighter recalled a request for first responders after an August incident in the city that continues to bother him.

A woman called 9-1-1 for assistance, but no local first responders were available to respond to the call. By the time outside help arrived, the woman was dead.

The same firefighter said the fire department missed 16 possible calls in August due to lack of available volunteers.

Incidents such as these are part of the reason Lucas Teska, the department’s part-time chief for the last six years, spoke at the same meeting — Teska asked councilors to consider making his role full-time. This, he believes, would address issues such as recruitment, required reports, firefighter retention and coordinating responses.

“Hiring that full-time fire chief would ensure that somebody’s going to be there, take care of everything that needs to be taken care of, manage the budget, do all the administrative functions,” Teska told the council.

Galesville is a volunteer department. Numbers have dwindled for both firefighters and first responders, Teska said, saying responses are at an “all-time low”. 

The current fire department contract is supposed to ensure the response of at least four firefighters — not including the chief — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are automatic aid agreements with Ettrick and Trempealeau.

Galesville First Responders have five members, including four firefighters and one new member.

Teska pointed to last year when 10 members responded per call. This year that number dropped to eight or nine. During the weekdays there are typically only four firefighters available.

Volunteer firefighters are paid about $15 per hour for responding, city clerk/treasurer Jennifer Hess told the council.

“The family life, the fire life, it’s hard to balance those two things. Now the firefighters are picking and choosing the calls they go on more often and that can be because something might be going on at school, sporting event or anything like that,” Teska said. “Or they have a job to get up for in the morning that they don’t want to be late for, don’t want to be tired for. So we’ve seen a major decline in response that way.”

The department saw an EMS call where zero first responders and one firefighter of the 28 rostered department members were available to help.

Ten years ago, 15 to 20 firefighters would respond to a call, Teska told the council.

“We kind of are left alone or left a little bit vulnerable during the daytime and with the amount of factories and schools and things that we have here I’d like to see a full-time fire chief in the city to be able to help manage those incidents from the get-go when they begin.”

Teska: Full-time chief would ensure regulations are met

The town of Gale and Galesville currently split the department fees evenly.

Larger cities have pre-plans for calls to large businesses such as factories, schools and schools. Galesville does not currently have such plans.

“The city does not currently have any buildings or schools in the district that have a preplan. We’re gonna go and call the shots as we go along, and that’s one of the things that a full-time fire chief could take care in managing those and making sure that those get done.”

Fire inspections currently occur once a year, while having a full-time chief would allow for such checks twice a year. Teska uses paid time off (PTO) at his day job in order to complete those 166 checks.

Teska was about a month behind on fire report requests from insurance agencies as he balances his job and home life with the department.

“I’m also doing a lot of work at my full-time job that I shouldn’t be doing because I gotta keep the fire department flowing,” he said.

Galesville received 84 department calls each of the last two years and are on track for the same in 2023, Teska said. 

First responders see 120 to 150 calls a year, which balloons to 290 calls a year when Town of Ettrick and Ettrick Village calls are added.

Galesville, Ettrick and Trempealeau each has their own volunteer fire department right now, and councilor Tory-Kale Schulz asked about combining the three into one regional department. 

That could be closer than some think, Teska said.

“With the way volunteers are right now — and all of us are having issues finding volunteers to help us out — my personal opinion is within the next five to 10 years it will be a regional fire department in southern Trempealeau County.”

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