BREAKING: Town of Mills Fire Department to be Laid Off
The Town of Mills will shut down its fire department with the exception of an administrative staff at the end of June, Mayor Seth Coleman told K2 Radio News on Thursday.
What that means for other area fire departments and their responsibilities remains to be seen, because Casper officials said they didn't know about it until contacted by K2 Radio.
Wednesday, Coleman said the Mills Town Council passed a resolution dealing with a structural funding problem it has had for years in paying for a full-time fire department.
"We've tried a lot of different things to research to find a way to fund it, or find a different way to operate it, and have found nothing that would be successful," he said.
The town has spent between $1.1 million to $1.3 million a year for the past several years for the department, he said.
"So what we're going to do after this fiscal year, which is June 30, is to contract with outside agencies for 911 fire response," Coleman said.
The town intends to have an administrative staff to perform building and occupancy inspections and emergency management planning and preparedness. It also has been interviewing for a new chief. In July, the council asked longtime Chief Dan Beall to resign.
But the details of a contract with another department aren't clear yet, nor are the possible impacts on fire firefighting and emergency responses in Mills and the rest of the county.
This news took Casper Fire Chief and other Casper city officials by surprise, and the loss of the Mills Fire Department will have implications for the city and other emergency responders, Chief Tom Solberg said in a phone interview.
The area fire departments have mutual aid agreements, Solberg said,
The Casper Fire Department still will be available for mutual aid, but the changes in Mills would require a look at how Casper would be able to sustain a possible greater burden, he said.
"Certainly for us to take over any other jurisdiction or really any other area on a sustainable basis would definitely impact Casper and our ability to serve our own city," Solberg said.
Solberg said City Manager Carter Napier, he and others will need to meet with Mills officials to figure out what happens next.
Coleman said the town probably will contract with the Natrona County Fire Protection District, and such an agreement probably will not affect the actual job of firefighting. “When you boil it down it probably doesn’t change a whole lot.”
For example, when there’s a fire in Mills, its department responds as does the Natrona County Fire Protection District and the Wyoming Medical Center, he said.
If the town contracts with the district, that won’t cause an undue burden for it, Coleman said. “The way I look at it, they [the Fire Protection District] is not taking on any responsibilities they don’t already have."
K2 Radio was not able to get a response from the diistrict, which is funded by taxpayers mostly in the unincorporated areas of the county.
The town council has not set up meetings to talk to other fire departments, and declined to say when that may happen, Coleman added.
Thursday's announcement was the most recent upheaval with Mills' relationship to its fire department.
About a decade ago, the town’s fire department went from a volunteer fire department to a blended full-time and volunteer department. The volunteer aspect ended in 2014.
The change to a professional department was intended to be funded by an ambulance service that would generate several hundred thousand dollars a year, Coleman said.
That contract was dissolved soon after it started, he said.
What was intended to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars turned into a major money loser from uncollected ambulance fees, Coleman said.
To cover those losses, Mills has used Optional One-cent Sales Tax revenues to operate the fire department instead of paying for infrastructure maintenance and capital projects as the voters intended, he said. “If it were not for One-cent, there would be no funds for the fire department.”
In a news release issued late Thursday, the council said it is proud of the department, "and regrets having to make this tough financial decision."