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Top West Allis fire job goes to medical manager

New chief comes from department's EMS side

Nov. 19, 2013

West Allis — Steve Bane, a 28-year veteran of the West Allis Fire Department who is described as passionate about his work, has been named its fire chief.

Bane succeeds Steven Hook, who retired in March. He is currently serving the department as assistant chief for emergency medical services — including ambulance and paramedics.

His position was a factor in the West Allis Police and Fire Commission's decision to select him as chief. EMS now represents the bulk of the department's calls, said Joseph Kempen, the commission's president.

"The fire service is considerably different than it was years ago, the bulk of calls are for emergency medical services," Kempen said.

So, when the Fire Department looks into maintaining or even enhancing service, a lot of exploration has to focus on EMS, Kempen said.

He also said he was pleased that the commission was able to find a chief from within the department. Bane was selected over a field of candidates from Indiana and Illinois as well as Wisconsin.

"We knew we had good internal candidates," he said, and putting them up against candidates from the outside proved that.

Rising through EMS ranks

Bane joined the department in 1985 as a firefighter. He became a paramedic in 1989 and was promoted to lieutenant in 1995 and captain in 1998. He became a battalion chief in 2001 and assistant chief of EMS in July 2002.

Bane has been appointed by two governors to serve on the state EMS advisory board and has served for many years on the Milwaukee County EMS council, appointed by the last four county executives.

He holds a bachelor's degree in human resource management from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an associate degree in fire science from MATC.

Support from the fire side

Since Hook's retirement, Assistant Chief Gary Streicher, who has responsibility for firefighting operations, has been covering both jobs. Streicher applauded the commission's choice of Bane.

"He's going to do an excellent job," Streicher said. "He's very passionate about his work."

Streicher said he is looking forward to going back to focusing just on firefighting.

"I like what I'm doing," which involves more of the firefighting aspect than the chief's job, he said.

"The chief's job is quite a bit different," said Streicher, who didn't apply for it.

Bane, who will be sworn in Dec. 2, said he is anxious to start his new job and begin meeting the challenges.

"These are some of the most challenging times since I've been in the fire service," he said. "But often challenge brings opportunities."

Key initiatives

West Allis has been pursuing one of those opportunities for several months, he said, working with other fire departments on a pilot cooperative arrangement where the closest department responds to emergencies. The departments have had mutual aid agreements for many years, but this initiative gets help to emergencies even faster, he said.

One of Bane's major goals will be to work toward a communication strategy that would enable the cooperating departments to function as efficiently as a single fire department, he said.

Another initiative he would like to explore is a partnership that would help improve health care offered by Aurora West Allis Medical Center through the use of "community paramedics," Bane said.

In such programs, firefighters visit homes of discharged hospital patients to make sure they are taking their medicine properly and following up with their doctors. At the same time, the firefighters would also check homes for safety hazards.

"It has been shown in some places to help people's health dramatically," Bane said.

Firefighters are ideal for these checks because they are trusted and respected, surveys show.

Bane pleads guilty to being passionate about his job.

"It's the ability to serve your community," he said. "It sounds good and neat and it's even neater when you actually do it."

There aren't many jobs where you can make even a tragic situation better or more manageable because of something you've said or because you were there to help, he said.

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