Lake Country Fire and Rescue needs better staffing to improve response times. It's asking Delafield voters for help.

In July 2022, Lake Country Fire and Rescue was called to the scene of a fire that started outside of someone's home. Then, in December, a similar fire called for the department's help. One house was almost totally lost, LCFR Fire Chief Matthew Fennig said, and one faced less than $4,000 of damage. The difference: about four minutes.

The response time of seven minutes, which meets the National Fire Protection Association standard, compared to 11 minutes, is detrimental, Fennig told the Lake Country Fire and Rescue Board on Dec. 5. LCFR response times are up by 30%, and stations are repeatedly closed due to lack of resources, he said. That's why he's calling for a plan that would transition staff from its current "fractured" paid-on-call model to all full-time positions by 2026.

The four-year, $3 million plan has been presented to and debated by the seven communities served by LCFR for months. Finally, this month, both the city and town of Delafield have led the way in deciding how to respond to the department's needs by placing a referendum on April's ballot. Ultimately, the question to voters is: will they pay more in taxes to help relieve the staffing crisis?

Referendum will ensure residents have a voice, town officials say

At a Jan. 10 meeting, the Delafield town board voted to place a referendum on the April 4 ballot that, if passed, would raise the state-imposed tax levy by $470,000 to address LCFR's staffing shortage. This made the town the second municipality, after the city of Delafield on Jan. 3, to decide on a referendum.

Delafield Town Supervisor Steve Michels said the referendum is ideal for fiscal conservatives — residents will still have control over their taxes, and if there is a need for another increase, they'll be able to vote again, he explained at the meeting.

"If this referendum doesn't pass, I worry about what the consequences are towards our ability to go to referendum with the taxpayers and have (residents) all weigh in and have control over the funding for the fire department," Michels said.

Michels told the Journal Sentinel that he will vote "yes" on the referendum.

"As a fiscal conservative, I will vote 'yes' for this referendum because the money is necessary to maintain fire and EMS service, and to ensure future increases in fire funding are voted on by town residents," Michels said.

Seven new firefighter and medic positions will be added this year, and Delafield Town Chairman Ron Troy said he wants to see how the positions affect the department before raising taxes.

"In all candor, the chief and I have discussed this on several occasions, I don't have a lot of confidence in his numbers," Troy said of Fennig's plan at the recent board meeting.

The rest of the municipalities — town of Genesee, village of Chenequa, village of Nashotah, village of Oconomowoc Lake and village of Wales — have until Jan. 27 to tell the county clerk if they will go to referendum. Going to referendum isn't their only option; municipalities can also choose to implement a fire fee, similar to a garbage collection fee, which doesn't require voters' approval.

A referendum to fund the Western Lakes Fire District failed in August after five of seven Waukesha County communities voted against it. The referendum would have doubled its preexisting annual $6.8 million budget.

After its failure, the WLFD Fire Board approved increasing their annual budget by $10.8 million, which is 60% less than what the district sought in August. Municipalities were left to decide how to cover their portion of the increased budget, such as implementing a fire fee or utilizing American Rescue Plan Act funds.

More:Fire Board OKs 60% increase in Western Lakes budget for 2023

The real problem is in Madison, fire chief says

As fire departments face staffing crises across Wisconsin, most municipalities could agree on one thing at the recent fire board meeting: help is needed from state legislators.

Fennig called on local leaders to reach out to state lawmakers because the root of the problem, he said, lies in Madison. Municipalities agreed to contact state representatives and Gov. Tony Evers to bring attention to the worsening issue.

In an email to the Journal Sentinel, Fennig thanked the town of Delafield's recent decision to place the referendum on the ballot and said anyone with questions can visit or contact LCFR at 262-646-6235.

To view the entire long-range staffing and operations plan, visit

Quinn Clark can be emailed at Follow her on Twitter @Quinn_A_Clark

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Delafield to hold April referendum to address LCFR fire staff shortage