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After 50 years in service, Station 7 – in the Lake Park neighborhood – housed its last crews Sunday.

The station is transitioning into a storage facility for reserve rigs, and crews will no longer operate out of that building as part of a cost-reducing plan from South Shore Fire Chief Robert Stedman.

Stedman’s plan was announced in November and also includes reducing the number of rescue crews from three to two and bringing down the total number of staff per shift from 16 to 15, including the on-duty chief. The new plan was proposed to mitigate overruns on overtime; totals for 2013 were projected to come to about $500,000, which was more than $300,000 over budget.

When Racine County Eye called Station 7 Sunday, firefighters would only say they were feeling “some disappointment that a long-time station is closing.”

William Miller – South Shore union president – was more blunt.

“There is no savings in closing Station 7 and moving crews around,” he said. “The savings comes in only with the reduction of daily staffing, and even then, we’re not going to anywhere near a $350,000 savings.”

At the time Stedman announced his plan, Mount Pleasant Trustee David DeGroot said it was well within the scope of the chief’s duties to make the decision to close Station 7 and move firefighters around.

“Closing the station is an administrative decision, and it is in Chief Stedman’s purview to decide how to deploy his staff,” he said. “Redeploying staff to other stations and staffing ambulances with 2-person crews actually puts an extra unit on the road to help handle the number of rescue calls the department handles.”

But Miller disagrees, saying that a total staffing of 15, including the chief, means one vacant position will get filled with overtime – like someone with an injury – but if someone calls in sick, that position stays open. The result is fewer firefighters on duty and fewer calls that will get answered.

Miller said the onus for any service shortages rests squarely on the shoulders of taxpayers who want services but don’t want to pay for them and then blame the “lazy” public employee for the village’s financial trouble.

“We do so much more than go on calls,” he continued. “We train almost constantly. We also do fire inspections and education. It’s like the ditch-diggers and you only see the guy at the top of the hole leaning on the shovel. What you don’t see is the three or four guys underground and you don’t understand that the one guy standing there is doing a job. All the people criticizing us, I invite them to come spend a shift with us so they can really understand.”

If residents – and board members – were really concerned about getting overtime under control, Miller added, SSFD would get three more firefighters.

“One guy brings down the overtime, but if we could hire three new guys, those overtime costs would almost go away entirely,” he said. “The chief is making some tough decisions, but its the members of the community who really need to decide what’s important.”

We have a message into Stedman, and we will update this story after we speak to him.

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