Firefighters focus on completing ice rescues, not charging those in need of help on Lake Winnebago

·2 min read
Members of Neenah-Menasha Fire Rescue conduct water rescue dive training on Lake Winnebago in Neenah.
Members of Neenah-Menasha Fire Rescue conduct water rescue dive training on Lake Winnebago in Neenah.

Reader question: If someone has to get rescued from the ice on Lake Winnebago, do they get charged for that?

Answer: Neenah-Menasha Fire Rescue does not charge people who are rescued from the ice on Lake Winnebago.

Rather, the cost is covered by Neenah and Menasha taxpayers as part of the department's operating budget.

Neenah-Menasha Fire Chief Kevin Kloehn said elected officials have made periodic pushes to charge people who get stranded on or fall through the ice to recoup costs. The discussions, though, haven't led to any action.

"Our guys don't go out on the ice and say, 'Show me your driver's license. Where are you from? Are you from the city of Neenah or Menasha? Oh, good, then we can rescue you. If not, just so you know, we're going to bill you,'" Kloehn said. "We've never done that."

Kloehn said if a rescue resulted in damage to equipment, it might make sense to bill those costs, but that hasn't happened in his 30 years with the department.

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Neenah-Menasha Fire Rescue uses a Husky Airboat on the ice. The boat was purchased and is maintained by the Winnebago County Sheriff's Office, and Neenah-Menasha firefighters house and staff the boat.

Oshkosh and Winneconne also have Husky Airboats available.

Neenah-Menasha Fire Rescue responds to 20 to 24 water rescues annually. Typically four to six of them are ice rescues.

"We do occasionally get the dog out on the ice or something like that, but that would come in as a different category for us," Kloehn said.

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Appleton firefighters respond to ice rescues on the Fox River, but Battalion Chief Derek Henson said they haven't had an ice rescue in the past three years.

Like Neenah-Menasha Fire Rescue, the Appleton Fire Department doesn't charge for ice rescues and covers the costs through its operating budget.

"We simply do not do enough of them to warrant a cost-recovery initiative," Henson said.

The Kaukauna Fire Department also doesn't charge for ice rescues.

Post-Crescent reporter Duke Behnke answers your questions about local government. Send questions to dbehnke@gannett.com or call him at 920-993-7176.

This article originally appeared on Appleton Post-Crescent: Local taxpayers cover cost of ice rescues on Lake Winnebago, Fox River

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