After 72 years of putting out fires, responding to crashes and helping out in medical emergencies, the largely volunteer-run town of Madison Fire Department flickers out Sunday.
The city of Madison Fire Department officially takes over fire protection responsibilities for town residents at midnight on Sunday in preparation for the eventual dissolution of the town of Madison in two years.
“It’s kind of highs and lows depending on the day,” town of Madison Fire Chief David Bloom said Saturday. “You hate to see the station get closed up and you don’t want people to not have jobs or have a volunteer opportunity that they love.”
The department has six full-time employees, four interns who live at the station on Fish Hatchery Road and about 15 volunteers, he said.
Three full-timers are transferring to the city of Madison Fire Department, and the other three are retiring, including the 72-year-old Bloom, who said he bought a new fishing pole in anticipation of the free time.
In September, the town and city of Madison struck a deal for the city to provide fire protection, emergency medical services and building inspection services for the town starting Nov. 1 and offer severance packages to those retiring.
The change in responsibilities comes two years before an agreement between the cities of Fitchburg and Madison and the town of Madison takes effect on Nov. 1, 2022, that will result in the town being fully annexed by the two cities and ceasing to exist.
Bloom said recruiting volunteer firefighters has become more challenging over the 28 years he has been the head of the town’s Fire Department, which was established in 1948.
There used to be waiting lists of volunteers, but it’s gotten to the point where it’s tough to have adequate staffing levels, he said.
Bloom attributes the difficulty in finding volunteer firefighters to younger parents already staying busy with work and family responsibilities, along with the minimum of 60 hours of training needed to become certified.
“It got to be real tough with volunteers just like any fire/EMS department across the country,” he said. “We’re struggling to get volunteers first of all and keep them.”
The types of calls the department responds to have also changed during Bloom’s tenure.
With an emphasis on educating about fire prevention and sprinklers installed in new buildings that are “like having a fireman on duty 24 hours a day,” Bloom said the town of Madison Fire Department does not put out as many fires as it used to.
“We’ve done such a good job at fire prevention we don’t have a lot of fires to deal with now,” he said. “We don’t have the structure fires that we used to have.”
Instead, Bloom estimates 80% of the calls are for emergency medical services, or EMS. The Fire Department added paramedic services in 1999.
Those calls can be pretty serious, Bloom said, ranging from drug overdoses to bad crashes on the Beltline; much of the remaining portion of the town of Madison straddles the sides of the highway.
“The town of Madison firefighters and paramedics have done a great job serving the community,” Bloom said. “Residents have had good coverage since 1948.”
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