MFD set to eliminate 75 firefighters despite increasing call volume

NOW: MFD set to eliminate 75 firefighters despite increasing call volume

The Milwaukee Fire Department had a record year in 2016, responding to 98,247 calls for service. 

That figure, coupled with violent unrest near Sherman Park, made for quite a year for Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing. 

Now his department has a new concern, budget cuts. 

"It's going to be a tough budget," says Chief Rohlfing.

Mayor Tom Barrett's proposed 2018 budget calls for a $10-million decrease in fire department spending. 

"The Mayor's budget will cut 5 apparatus, 5 heavy apparatus out of our fleet, which is a pretty big hit," says Rohfling. 

Each apparatus is run by a group of 15 firefighters, meaning a total of 75 positions will need to be eliminated. 

"We probably will have to shut down some engine houses as well," he says. "There's a human element, there's a computer predictive software element, and we meld that all together." 

Mayor Barrett is calling for a half cent sales tax to make up for those cuts to public safety. That sales tax would first need to be approved by Governor Scott Walker. 

Chief Rohlfing says he expects to know specifics on the cuts by next week. 

"As we reduce our force, we want to do it with as little impact as possible." 

He says despite obvious concern, his department will continue to meet national response time standards.

"Every time you take an apparatus out of service your response times go up a little bit, but our response times will meet the national standard," he says. "We're going at it the best we can. We'll make good strategic decisions on what engine companies we take out of service, so we can still provide the citizens with the best protection we can for the dollars that we're allotted." 

Other Takeaways from 2016 Annual Report

Calls for Service:

84% EMS

4% Fire

11% Rescue (elevator stuck, auto extrication, etc)

1% Service (locked out, water leak, etc)


There were 5 fire deaths in 2016, down from 10 in 2015.

"Our goal is always zero," says Chief Rohlfing. "We know our proactive activities lead to less fire deaths." 

Sherman Park Unrest

"I was really proud of them, our guys did an excellent job. That first night was a little rough, it was difficult for us to be near some of those scenes that we needed to be."

"We have a civil disturbance policy, and it just so happened that as we looked at some other places across the United States like Ferguson, where they had some civil unrest, we took a little bit of time to look at our policy, and we had just updated that policy." 

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