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Koepecky (click for larger version)
May 27, 2014 | 10:19 AM
GENEVA — The town has coverage agreements with two nearby city fire departments, and at least two board members and a fire chief are happy with the way things are going.

While replying via mail to questions about a May 14 special meeting with Elkhorn Fire Chief Rod Smith last week, town chairman Joe Kopecky and supervisor Mike Mumford provided their thoughts on the current state of the town’s fire coverage. So did Smith in a Friday phone interview.

Although the town doesn’t have its own fire and rescue department, it has a couple things in common with communities that do — concerns over waning volunteerism and a desire to find ways to improve emergency response times.

In a May 20 email, Mumford said he feels nothing needs to be done to improve the town’s coverage. He said the town receives excellent fire protection from Elkhorn and Lake Geneva departments, as well as emergency medical coverage from Paratech.

“Elkhorn and Lake Geneva effectively back each other up when needed, and the town is well-covered.”

Kopecky said he’s also happy, that the town “seriously values” the service from the Lake Geneva and Elkhorn departments, which he also said was excellent.

Smith said the town “is in good hands.” A third-generation firefighter who has been with the Elkhorn department 37 years, Smith gave a brief history of Elkhorn’s involvement in town of Geneva fire protection.

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He said Elkhorn has been covering the town of Geneva since at least the 1960s, and that his department used to cover all of the town of Geneva until the 1990s, when the town entered into a service agreement with the city of Lake Geneva.

Now, Elklhorn covers about 73 percent of the town, but for structure fire calls, both departments respond, Smith said.

One thing he predicted will become a major concern in five to 10 years is staffing.

“The future looks, to me, like we’ll have to pay people to do the job,” he said.

Staffing

The reason why? Smith said fire departments are experiencing a drop in volunteers across the country.

“People have lives,” Smith said, and “it takes hours and days” to complete the necessary training. Plus, it’s hard work. “It takes a good, physically-fit individual.”

Kopecky urged town residents to consider volunteering. Those interested should contact the Elkhorn or Lake Geneva departments.

“Having emergency personnel residents throughout our community neighborhoods will help improve response times and fire prevention/accident awareness. Enough community involvement could eventually result in a firefighting facility being constructed closer to our population centers.”

Smith said Elkhorn has a fire truck parked at the Lake Como Sanitary District building, but finding people to man it isn’t a new problem. “We solicit down there quite often for members, but there just never seems to be any interest.”

As for response times, Smith said it’s adequate — it‘s better than the national average — but there’s always room for improvement. “The drive time alone is the main factor.”

It takes about five to 10 minutes to reach Como from his department.

“The issue of response time is always an important consideration and, even for communities who are fortunate enough to have their own fire department, response times are never instant,” Kopecky said.

One issue which affects town emergency services as a whole is Lake Como. Kopecky said having a lake in the center of the town impedes cross-town traffic. “Our problem is not as severe as the north shore town of Linn residents experience. However, it does affect response times for fire, ambulance, policy and highway department personnel.”

A popular belief is that building an emergency access drive across the Lake Como Dam would be an improvement, he said.

Kopecky said that’s an expensive solution. Such a project would be “highly regulated,” he said, “and typically doesn’t get past the initial investigation stage.”

However, he still considers it “an option which should be given serious study.”

Sprinklers

He also suggested that some town residents look at sprinkler systems.

“Particularly in the areas of the town with municipal water supply, (such as) Lake Como subdivision, Interlaken and Geneva National, as well as those on private wells, residents should give serious consideration to installing residential central fire sprinkler systems, particularly in newly constructed homes, as insurance against the consequence of unintended fire.”

Kopecky said rather than look at that idea “as a mandated requirement handed down by Big Brother, look instead at the loss of life” and prevention of property damage that a system could provide, “not to overemphasize that the value added to your residence may improve its marketability when looking to sell.”

He said the board hasn’t received any complaints about fire coverage, and the town meets rating standards set forth by ISO, an organization which collection information on municipal fire protection efforts.

However, Kopecky said it’s important to avoid complacency.

“Although we have a very workable system in place today, we are always striving to improve. As has always been the case, if anyone has ideas, please show up at the monthly town board meetings and share your thoughts. If you don’t have anything to share, show up anyway and join in the information exchange.”

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