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Chief Rufer: Fire department making progress
‘Lift-assist’ calls will continue to increase
Monroe Fire Department

MONROE — The Monroe Fire Department has seen a slight decrease in calls for service year over year, but it anticipates a rise in overall calls long term due to an aging population.

That is according to Fire Chief Al Rufer, who delivered the department’s annual report at the March 18 Common Council Meeting. There were 307 calls for department service in 2022, compared to 295 in 2023, a roughly 5% decrease, he said. 

In response to a question from Ald. Andrew Kranig, Rufer said lift assists continue to make up a large percentage of the calls in which the department is asked to respond by EMS crews — working out to about 80 to 90 such calls per year. 

Rescue calls in general were at about 62% percent of total calls, a percentage that is actually far lower than the roughly 80% of total calls nationally for similar departments.

“They (lift-assist calls) are not going away, they are going to continue to grow,” said Rufer. “We have an aging population.”

Rufer has served off and on as interim Fire Chief through a period of turmoil in the department over the last decade before being appointed to the post permanently in October 2023.  

The city had been without a full-time fire chief since April 2022 after William Erb abruptly resigned three months into the job. He cited turmoil in the department for his hasty exit. Ultimately, a city-led ad-hoc committee formed to address fire department issues met for several sessions and disbanded, making several recommendations but taking no formal action and deciding to leave the structure of the all-volunteer department intact.

During his short time at the helm, Rufer said the department has worked to improve itself inside and out. There were only two major fires in 2023, he said, and fire operations were at acceptable levels in the response to both, he said.

Moreover, he said the department’s personnel situation has stabilized — for the first time in several years he said the department has ended the year with more staff than it lost to retirement — or from members of the mostly volunteer department quitting the job.

One way to build on that success, according to Rufer, is to beef up the department’s reward and recognition efforts, something he has emphasized since taking over. Now long-term and retiring employees are recognized with mementos of their service and public recognition for years on the job, something for which “the consistency wasn’t there” in the past, he said.

Public relations and outreach continue to be emphasized by the department, he said, as it is frequently called on to speak to community groups, school groups and to provide tours of facilities.