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Doug's Diggings: Thoughts on fighting fires in Hudson

In the end, the most success in fighting fires comes in early detection.

When a tragedy like a house fire is reported on the Star-Observer Web site ( the article comments generally express sympathy for the victims and maybe add a few facts and interesting tidbits.

The comments took a different twist, however, after the fire at the Todd and Julie Davies residence, 756 Highlander Court, in the town of Hudson. The fire virtually destroyed the home, built in 2005. The fire was reported at 10:42 p.m. July 2.

The comments on the HSO web site reflected sentiments that Hudson might be due for some changes in its fire department service. The suggestions ranged from building a second fire station to providing full-time fire service (moving away from the "all-volunteer" format currently used).

Hudson's volunteer fire department does a marvelous job. The bottom line is, no matter how many fire stations you have, and how many full-time firefighters you have, somebody will be living at the furthest end of the coverage area. Houses will still be destroyed by fire - happens in big cities where the fire stations are just a few blocks apart.

Hudson Fire Chief Jim Frye, however, is pretty open to discussing different possibilities. As Jim says, "It basically comes down to what the public wants and is willing to pay for."

Frye said the current fire department budget (2009) is $745,000. Of that, about $247,000 is for personnel, including one full-time employee (fire inspector Dave Krupich) and one secretary. The remainder of the $247,000 goes for volunteers, who earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 a call.

The difference between the $247,000 and $745,000 goes for various capital expenses, insurance, etc. Hudson currently is allotted 40 volunteer firefighters.

Frye said the city has explored other potential options in the past. He said the personnel portion of adding a full-time department would add about $1.5 million to the budget. Generally, the way it works is that four full-time firefighters are on duty at one time (and need living quarters). The scenario often involves the use of volunteers also. Essentially the four full-timers get a fire truck rolling within a couple minutes of a call and the volunteers show up a few minutes later. Currently, Hudson's volunteer firefighters are usually out the door with a fire truck in about five minutes or less after a call - that's the time it takes for a few volunteers to arrive at the fire station and get on the proper clothes to respond to a fire. That time can be cut by half or more with a full-time crew (usually two to three minutes to get the first truck rolling).

Departments currently using this type of combination arrangement include Stillwater and Menomonie.

"Many suburbs also use the combination approach," Frye said. All St. Croix County fire departments are volunteer departments.

In the Davies fire on July 2, the truck was rolling within about four minutes of the call. The house is about 7 miles from the fire station and it took about 10 more minutes (14 total) to get a truck on the scene. Because the fire was about midway between Hudson and Roberts, a town of Warren truck was also sent and arrived at the Davies house at about the same time as the Hudson truck.

"For the people who are waiting it seems like it takes forever," Frye said. "It's a terrible, helpless feeling."

Unfortunately, fires don't wait for firetrucks.

"A fire doubles in size about every two minutes," Frye said. "This fire (Davies) also had a pretty good start before the call came in."

As far as a second fire station is concerned, the city already has a consultant looking at facilities planning. A second fire station could be part of that study. A second station would most likely be located within the city limits, although that is not a given.

Under the current arrangement, the fire department is a "Hudson" Fire Department, but serves four municipalities.

"The city runs all the equipment, but the cost is pro-rated and each municipality pays a percentage of the budget," Frye said. "It's based on total equalized value."

Frye said the city of Hudson pays 48.72 percent of the budget, town of Hudson pays 31.49 percent, North Hudson pays 11.95 percent and town of Troy pays 7.84 percent.

In the end, Frye said the most success in fighting fires comes in early detection. The town of Hudson fire on July 2 was quite well advanced before it was noticed.

However, the questions of full-time firefighters, second stations etc. are legitimate items for discussion. And, as Jim Frye says, "It's a matter of what the public wants."