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Fire officials get hot over searing comments

They counter union leader's assessment of local department

Feb. 1, 2010

West Allis — It's safe to say West Allis fire officials didn't take kindly to suggestions their Fire Department would not be up to the task of battling blazes in Milwaukee.

In a letter to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and the city's Police and Fire Commission, the West Allis Police and Fire Commission criticized remarks the Milwaukee fire union president made on WTMJ radio.

The letter quotes union President David Seager as saying West Allis and other suburban fire departments would not have "the wherewithal to conduct urban firefighting."

Fallout from Pizza Man fire

Several suburban fire departments, including West Allis, were called to cover Milwaukee firehouses last week as firefighters battled the large fire at the Pizza Man restaurant on Milwaukee's east side.

"It's blatantly clear that these communities, if called upon, to respond to a working structure fire of any nature within the city of Milwaukee, they would have extreme difficulty," the letter quotes Seager as saying on Jeff Wagner's afternoon WTMJ radio show.

Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan made similar comments in an interview with the Journal Sentinel, saying, "They just do not have the necessary experience and training to the level that the Milwaukee Fire Department does."

Firing back

West Allis Police and Fire Commission members said they believe nothing could be further from the truth.

Local firefighters, EMTs and paramedics perform at the highest levels of proficiency and aggressiveness, the commission wrote in a letter to Barrett and the Milwaukee PFC.

The WAFD is internationally accredited and its employees are "carefully selected, well-educated, highly trained and professional," the letter states.

"I am confident that our West Allis firefighters are as well-trained and proficient as any of the area's top-performing departments," commission President Joseph Kempen said in a statement e-mailed to the West Allis NOW. "We are proud of the proficiency and responsiveness of our department to calls for service within West Allis and the surrounding communities."

The Greenfield Fire Department did not cover the Milwaukee firehouses and stayed in reserve during the recent fire, Mayor Michael Neitzke said.

However, Neitzke agreed the criticism was off base, adding existing mutual aid agreements among suburban fire departments have worked well.

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