Cambridge area residents worry friction between fire and EMS will negatively impact services

There’s new concern in the Cambridge area fighting between the fire and emergency services departments will end up hurting the people calling 911.
Published: Nov. 15, 2023 at 6:50 PM CST
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CAMBRIDGE, Wis. (WMTV) - There’s new concern in the Cambridge area that fighting between the fire and emergency services departments will end up hurting the people reaching for the phone to call 911.

A few months back, the community was arguing on whether or not to merge the two departments, and since then, it’s come to light the group overseeing fire and EMS isn’t following the rules when it comes to handling and keeping track of finances. And now there’s a new revelation that came out of a Cambridge Fire and EMS Commission meeting that emphasizes the need for accountability and change.

At the commission meeting on November 2, five seats faced a room filled with concerned citizens. Two of those commissioner chairs sit empty.

“Our goal here is to bring the fire and EMS together. And for us to have fighting within the commission isn’t a good precedent to show,” voiced Commissioner Kris Breunig.

The three commissioners present were people recently appointed to serve on the board. One of those freshman members, who is now in charge of the finances, says she didn’t get much of a hand off from the previous commissioner who held the seat.

“I got a shoe box, a shoe box with papers in it. And there was very little to do anything with,” said commission treasurer Sheila Palinkas.

Some audience members gasped at the finance method used. Others voiced other concerns.

“We’ve got to stop this crap going on between agencies,” voiced taxpayer and former EMS Director Bob Salov. “It’s got to be one team. Any negative against that team approach is felt by the patient or the person whose house is on fire.”

“As a taxpayer it is disturbing to me to think about all the unnecessary spending that has occurred in the last 18 months,” said taxpayer Jana Evans.

The first proposed change by the commission was a financial one. All commissioners present voted to reinforce what the rules already say about who can sign checks with taxpayer money, the president and treasurer. Recent reporting showed the vast majority of checks were being signed by current EMS Director Paul Blount.

“We need to reign in who is on the signature cards on each individual bank we have,” said Breunig.

Check signing isn’t the only practice in question. Commission members admitted financial statements are not being kept and there are questions about how much money is coming in and going out.

“We have to get the basic things down. We have to know how much money we have. We have to know who’s paying the bills. We have to know how much we are spending on things,” said Palinkas.

Palinkas’ frustrations as the new treasurer sparked change all the way to the top. She brought up the idea of removing Commission President Mark Cooke who was not one of the members present.

“That’s the first step, and elect a new president and try to get these things taken care of,” suggested Palinkas.

The recommendation to remove Cooke did not go forward. And with concerns still present, the decision got tabled for the next meeting, knowing the empty chairs need to be filled to work together to move forward.

The commission originally had a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 15, but it has since been moved to December.

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