Cambridge Commission to present new options on whether to merge Fire and EMS

Cambridge fire says the department is under attack after outside push to merge with EMS.
Cambridge fire says the department is under attack after outside push to merge with EMS.
Published: Aug. 21, 2023 at 10:32 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - There’s confusion and contention in Cambridge; this, after a push to merge fire and EMS into one department. It’s a combination a number of surrounding communities already operate under, but one leader with Cambridge Fire says it’s not only unnecessary, but bad for their particular community.

When the pager goes off, it’s all firefighters to the station in Cambridge. The volunteer fire department of 32 provides service to five municipalities: Cambridge, Christiana, Oakland, Rockdale and Lake Mills.

“We happen to be sitting in a really good spot right now. We have had some very good responses to our recruiting drives over the last couple of years,” says Cambridge Volunteer Fire Department’s Assistant Chief Tom Frederick.

Cambridge Area Emergency Medical Services is a separate department, for now. Next month the Cambridge Community Fire and EMS Commission will present three options on whether or not to merge the two departments, an idea which failed to pass earlier this year.

Cambridge Community Fire and EMS Commission
Cambridge Community Fire and EMS Commission(WMTV)

Here’s how the commission works. Cambridge Fire and EMS serve those five smaller communities. One member of each of the five individual boards serves on the commission to represent their town or village. That commission oversees both the fire department and EMS. For a vote to pass, it first has to pass the commission, and then it goes back to each individual board to get final approval.

Assistant Fire Chief Tom Frederick says merging EMS and fire would be a bad move for public safety.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s as simple as that,” says Frederick.

He says what bothers him most though, is the commission discussing the merger in closed session. He says that keeps the fire department from learning what’s going on and from asking questions.

Paula Hollenbeck, a member of the Village of Cambridge Board says a lack of transparency is creating confusion and contention.

“The fire and EMS commission has been, over the last two years, been doing a lot in closed session. And the information has not been coming back to the village board to understand what they have been talking about and the decisions they are making and how they are coming to those decisions,” says Hollenbeck.

New information from the commission has been presented to the town and village board members in the form of allegations against firefighters including harassment, intimidation and providing unlicensed medical services on scene.

Frederick says the commission is keeping quiet about the allegations and won’t show the complaints to the fire department to address. Frederick hypothesizes the allegations were made to discredit the fire department so a merger would seem necessary.

“Very much so,” says Frederick.

Frederick says the allegations should have come to his department first.

“We can’t dispute what we don’t have information on, and we’ve never been given information on it,” says Frederick.

But he says there’s no way the department can properly investigate without the proper information.

“So all of those allegations have been given to the district commission and to the attorney to investigate, and I can’t comment on who is involved and the outcome of those investigations,” says Paul Blount, the head of Cambridge Area Emergency Services.

Frederick says Blount is the driving force behind wanting to merge the departments.

“It appears to us that the EMS director wants a bigger empire. He wants to control both fire and ems, and he wants to expand his service to other communities,” claims Frederick.

It’s a claim Blount denies.

“I have a three year contract with the district that was just written up and voted on unanimously by the district commission three months ago, so I’m not aware of any other position I am trying to obtain or any other position I could obtain,” says Blount.

In the meantime with both departments operating independently, Hollenbeck hopes the commission responds to the call for collaboration and communication.

“The commission should be brining the two departments together and not taking one side over the other, and they don’t seem to be doing that,” says Hollenbeck.

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