Dodge Co. fire departments merge after staffing shortages

Dodge Co. fire departments merge to address need.
Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 10:15 PM CST
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DODGE CO., Wis. (WMTV) - Calling it the first in Dodge County, three fire departments have merged into one, addressing a problem facing many small-town stations.

The former Clyman, Lowell and Reeseville Fire Departments are together known as CLR Fire & Rescue. The merger on January 1 finalized the effort that stretched more than five years.

“We all operate as one, follow the same set of rules, and we all operate under one budget,” Chief Eric Howlett, who previously spearheaded the Clyman station, said.

“Nobody wanted to see your local fire department shut down when you got 420 years combined history between all three departments,” he said.

While there were no direct threats of shutdown, according to Howlett, Wisconsin law defines a fire department as having at least 30 active members. Howlett said the Clyman department had just 20 people on the roster, while the other two stations had even fewer members.

“The stress of it is when you hear the pagers going off and you’re listening and nobody’s responding, nobody’s responding,” Howlett said.

“You just can’t get anyone to do it anymore,” CLR Deputy Chief Chris Abell said. He was Reeseville’s 17th and final chief.

“It takes away from your family and your personal life, and it’s a big commitment. With the additional training hours that the state’s putting on us, it is hard to get new members to come in the door,” Abell said.

But as roughly 50 firefighters now wear the CLR badge, department heads say they’re more equipped to respond.

“We’re not gone,” Abell said. “We’re still here. We’re carrying on just with a new name. A bigger family is what it is.”

While CLR is one department, firefighters are still operating out of the three stations in Clyman, Lowell and Reeseville. The Reeseville station is considered “home base” mostly for administrative purposes.

Howell said the goal is to eventually downsize in equipment, so taxpayers can also expect to see savings.

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