Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Is there a fire boat in town's future?
Linn chairman dispels rumor, but it appears a proposal is in the works

November 08, 2012

LINN — If it takes so long for fire and rescue personnel to go from the town's south shore region around Geneva Lake to the north shore, why not simply cut across the lake?

Perhaps that's what sparked the rumor that the town is purchasing a fire boat. The truth, Linn Chairman Jim Weiss said on the phone Nov. 2, is that the town's fire department only last week created a committee to look further into the idea.

"There are no details yet to speak of," Weiss said.

He said there are no concepts of costs yet, no estimates of purchase prices or maintenance expenditures, no ideas on where to moor the boat, no information from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and no line item for it in what's becoming the proposed 2013 town budget.

And when Linn's protective services committee met Wednesday, this whole boat idea wasn't even on the agenda.

Attempts to obtain comments from Linn Fire Chief Jason Smith and Assistant Fire Chief Dan Pitt were unsuccessful by press time.

"'Conceptual' is the only word I can continue to come up with to describe this," Weiss said.

He said no one has asked him if the town's buying a fire boat. "I have heard residents are willing to help fund a boat, but I have not seen anything to substantiate that," he said.

But apparently there has been talk of a fire boat prior to the creation of the department's committee.

"As I understand it, it's not like a fire boat that you'd see in Chicago, where it shoots water but it's a pumper-type boat," Weiss said. "If there is a lakefront house and you have a fire, (the boat) could provide a central source of water."

He said the Linn Fire and Rescue Department has a dive boat, "which is a different type of animal."

"I think the concept here would be unique to Geneva Lake and could serve all the municipalities that would encompass the lakefront area — again, conceptually," Weiss said.

How does Weiss feel about this concept?

"If you just look at the concept of the fire boat itself, not considering cost or any of the other details associated with it it sounds very entertaining to take a look at," he said. "However, the reality is the cost benefit analysis that we haven't even scratched the surface on."

Weiss said one way to look at this idea is to consider history.

He said going back 10 years, "how many instances would this vessel have been a great benefit to a fire department? Don't know."

Weiss said the town is faced with "limited funds and unlimited desires." He discussed the need to consider the town's current state of fire protection, and how best to spend funds to improve it.

"If it costs half a million dollars, for example, you have to make a choice and you have to find the thing that's going to give you the best value for the money. We need to review fire protection (in) the town of Linn as a whole," he said.

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Fire protection — specifically, in the north shore of Linn — was an expected topic of discussion at Wednesday's Protective Services Committee meeting.

The issue for Linn is its fire and rescue services are stationed on Hillside Road, in the south shore region.

They have to drive around Geneva Lake, usually through the city of Lake Geneva, to respond to calls.

Weiss predicted the committee would talk about sending letters to the town of Geneva and the village of Williams Bay.

The letters could be an invitation to reopen talks from a few years ago about ways to improve response times to the area along Highway 50, from Highway 67 to the city limits of Lake Geneva.

Over the phone Oct. 17, Geneva Town Chairman Joe Kopecky sounded willing to return to the table with Linn.

All three communities paid for a fire and rescue service study of the area in 2009.

"There are all kinds of variables we'd have to look at, but if Linn wants to talk, we'd hear what they have to say," Kopecky said.

In a Sept. 21 interview, Weiss said the fire protection issue needs to be addressed and "the first thing we need to do is find out if there are any neighboring municipalities that are willing to participate with us."

Linn has a service contract with Williams Bay to respond to north shore calls.

However, on the phone Sept. 20, Linn Town Supervisor Jeanne Allis — the only supervisor on the board who is a north shore resident — said other north shore residents have told her they heard the area is not covered for fire or rescue.

In an email Monday, Allis stated her support of looking into a fire boat purchase and reiterated the need to look deeper into fire protection as a whole in Linn.

"There is a good plan of operations in place but having the ability to add the capability of a fire boat to better serve all of our residents but particularly the north shore should be researched and taken under consideration by protective services and the board," she stated. "This is not to replace the work being pursued among the adjoining communities but as an augment to that work."

On Nov. 2, Weiss said the proposed 2013 budget has a $10,000 line item for "fire protection contingency," something to look at the town's fire protection as a whole and to help them determine what the focus should be, "so we may look at any and all options that present themselves."

Weiss said that could be a boat, but it also could be a new building on the north shore or a contract with another fire department.

"Nobody knows yet," he said.