'This has to stop': Milwaukee Fire Dept stretched thin by record call volume
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The fourth dangerous fire at the abandoned Northridge Mall in as many as weeks is exposing serious concerns about funding and resources for critical city services.
Fire Chief Aaron Lipski said his crews are exhausted. The Northridge Mall fire was dangerous enough, but the pressure created by a record number of calls is not letting up.
Chief Aaron Lipski said, "There is a breaking point, and I fear we're at or just past that breaking point."
The sheer volume of calls handled by the Milwaukee Fire Department every day is taxing firefighters like never before.
Chief Lipski says being able to provide adequate service is a concern. "It would be disingenuous for me to suggest that on our normal day I'm comfortable with it. Because I'm not."
Just hours earlier Lipski's crews were stretched paper-thin again. At the fire Wednesday night, he said, "This has to stop, this has to stop. We are already taxed beyond belief on the Milwaukee Fire Department."
Chief Lipski said there have been steady cuts to service for the past 15-20 years, what he called death by a thousand cuts. He added, "And several years in there of the hatchet."
Right now MFD has 43 vacancies, but surrounding departments provide help when needed thanks to strong partnerships.
Chief Lipski said, "I thank my lucky stars I have someone I can call who will come."
This week Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson acknowledged limited revenue means the city may have to brace for tough budget cuts.
"We've tried and tried and tried to make sure we spare police and fire, these core city services," said Mayor Johnson.
Johnson says without help from the state legislature the city cannot raise new revenue to maintain services, much less increase them.
And Lipski said while fighting a fire is not a political issue, it will likely take a politician to fix the problems.
"We can't do this thing where we just keep kicking this can down the road hoping eventually someone takes notice that 'hey the fire department is under absolutely ridiculous strain.' And it is going to impact firefighter and paramedic safety, and it is going to impact, as a result, our ability to do our job."
We asked the chief what he hopes will happen, if getting back to 100% resources is realistic. He said he just hopes to hold flat right now, saying that would be a win for him.