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Madison Common Council approves money for new ambulance but no money for extra staff

MADISON (WKOW) — After a difficult budget battle, Madison’s fire chief is getting the ambulance he asked for, but he’ll have to wait another year to put it to use.

After rejecting a budget amendment to fund and staff a ninth ambulance Tuesday night, common council voted Wednesday to approve another amendment that would allocate funding in the Capital Budget for a new ambulance, but no supplies or staff.

Fire Chief Steve Davis requested the ambulance for Madison’s newest station, Station 14, on the city’s southeast side. According to a blog post he published Monday, response times for that station are inadequate.

“When you call 911 for an ambulance, we are able to get an ambulance to your door in under 9 minutes nearly 90 percent of the time,” he wrote in the blog. “That is, unless you’re located in Station 14’s territory. There, we are able to get an ambulance to your door in under 9 minutes only 53 percent of the time.”

Davis added that the department’s lack of resources is impacting other areas as well. Between Sept. 15 and Oct. 30, he said the city has run out of available ambulances to respond to emergencies seven times.

“The system is busy and it needs more resources,” he said.

Common council voted against that funding Monday night, claiming the money wasn’t there but on Tuesday Alder Lindsay Lemmer, from District 3, offered an alternate amendment.

Her plan set aside $305,000 to fund the vehicle but not the staff.

“We know that this is a need that’s been there for a long time,” she said. “We know that folks who live in the territory of Station 14 who are subject to getting an ambulance within nine minutes only 53 percent of the time versus 90 percent of the time everywhere else that’s shameful, but we have a lot of competing priorities.”

She asked the council to consider her amendment not only as a compromise to the department but also a promise that in 2021 they will do what they can to find the money for 10 new firefighters to staff the ambulance.

“What we were faced with yesterday was an untenable decision for most of us,” she said. “I think this alternate moves us in the right direction.”

The amendment passed with a significant majority. Two alders voted in opposition.

Chief Davis said it’s a start but not a solution. He said the department needs a staff and training time as well as a physical vehicle to make an impact.

“It’s a good step forward,” he said. “It’s a three step process, we got the later two steps out of the way now. Now we have to circle back and hire those firefighters.”

When the department gets the new ambulance, Davis said they’ll add it to the fleet, but without the 10 new firefighters to staff it, the new equipment won’t provide an immediate fix to the city’s response time concerns.

In the meantime, Davis said he will try to address the disparities in the southeastern neighborhoods. He said it’s difficult to say whether Wednesday’s decision will have any impact there within the next year.

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “We’re going to sit down and really look at some response data, and see if we can’t shift some ambulances around this city and try and get an ambulance out there.”

The department’s next opportunity to get funding to staff their ninth ambulance will come next fall as council debates the 2021 budget.

Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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