TOWN OF BELOIT —Negotiations are set to continue between the township and City of Janesville on potentially sharing fire department resources and a fire chief.
During Monday night’s Town of Beloit Board of Supervisors meeting, the board voted to approve a memorandum of understanding to allow negotiations to proceed. The vote came after about 40 minutes of closed session discussion.
“I’m happy that the board is looking into this for the future. They’re looking into the greater good of the community instead of just what we’re doing right now,” said Gene Wright, who is retiring as the town’s fire chief and administrator in October.
The township explored multiple options for the chief role and then approached the City of Janesville recently to inquire with Janesville’s fire chief, Ernie Rhodes, about how a regional partnership could work between the two fire departments, Wright said.
Rhodes met with the Town of Beloit Fire Chief Hiring Committee on Sept. 15 to discuss how resources could be shared countywide and some of his ideas, such as a command staff merger.
Wright added that as paid-on-call firefighters are increasingly in short supply, fire departments nationwide—the township included—are going back to the drawing board to identify new organizational models for delivering quality fire services.
In case negotiations are not completed when Wright retires on Oct. 9, he said the town board would likely select an interim fire chief until negotiations with Janesville are finished.
Wright said he has faith that the town’s fire department has many able leaders who could fill his shoes as needed until final decisions are made.
It is unclear exactly when a final decision might be reached. No formal offers have been extended yet, Wright said.
At this time, Wright said it is not determined whether a contract would include payment to the City of Janesville, Janesville Fire Department or directly to Rhodes if he is asked to merge his duties as chief for the township.
Wright said he has had discussions with multiple fire department leaders in the Rock County area—including the City of Beloit—in recent years and months and that they share a belief that partnerships are critical to local fire service.
He said an existing AVL response agreement has proven successful, and no department is being counted out in terms of seeking closer regional partnerships.