Consolidation success: 20 years later, report shows fire departments coming together the right call

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BROWN DEER -- Back in the early 1990s, the idea of combining the fire services in seven of Milwaukee's collar communities was considered controversial. Twenty years later, the consolidation is considered a success by members of the North Shore Fire Department.

"This wasn't a common thing," North Shore Fire Chief Robert Whitaker said.

Seven Milwaukee-area fire departments are among the first first responders to consolidate.

Seven fire departments in southeastern Wisconsin consolidate

Seven fire departments in southeastern Wisconsin consolidate

"This was pretty much the first-of-its-kind in Wisconsin, and there were a couple examples around the country," Whitaker said. "There was a lot of people who said 'don't do it!'"

But it was done -- and the communities of Glendale, Brown Deer, Bayside, Fox Point, River Hills, Shorewood, and Whitefish Bay chose to consolidate.

Public Policy Forum report

Public Policy Forum report

And now, a Public Policy Forum report indicates the consolidation was the right call. In fact, the report reveals those seven municipalities would have paid nearly $2.8 million more for service in 2014 had they operated as separate entities.

And then there's the accreditation.

North Shore Fire Chief Robert Whitaker

North Shore Fire Chief Robert Whitaker

"Which puts us in one of 218 agencies worldwide to be an internationally-accredited fire and rescue agency," Whitaker said.

Whitaker says this involves residents sharing suggestions for further improvement.

North Shore Fire Department

North Shore Fire Department

"That hopefully will help us -- if we need alternative revenue sources, to maybe find some of those. People will look at it and say 'there's a desire. There's a need.' And the fire department has a history of showing positive outcomes," Whitaker said.

Whitaker says he is frequently contacted by leaders of other fire departments throughout the country and even overseas as people try to learn more about this consolidation.

The North Shore Fire Department will host an event highlighting the department's 20 years of consolidated services at the Wisconsin Country Club on Tuesday evening, October 6th.