I’d like to begin my first President’s message by giving credit where it is due! Thanks to everyone who attended the 2018 Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs’ Association (WSFCA) conference in the Wisconsin Dells and for everyone that helped to make the conference a success this year. Despite some of the challenges that we had with roomavailability at the Kalahari,I have received many positive comments from attendees. It sounds like our membersand families enjoyed themselves! A special thanks to Chief Darren Jorgenson from the Delton Fire Department for being such a gracious host, a key contributing planner helping to make sure that all of the important things like food, transportation, and entertainment all were excellent, and for an outstanding reception hosted by the Delton Fire Department along with their members at their beautiful fire station. I’d also like to extend thanks to the WSFCA Board of Directors that worked to support the conference and our business management team at SAMI, for their hard work making sure that all of the pieces came together.
At the conference, our journey began with a new structure for the WSFCA Board of Directors. We added regional trustees and appointed trustees for career, combination, and volunteer representation. This has been a significant effort that has been a long time in the making and it is exciting for us to see this become reality. As a result, our board is much larger, but we now have true representation from across our great state. This should help us to become even stronger as an association. So, without further ado, I’d like to welcome Chief Chris Garrison (Sun Prairie), Chief Keith Kesler (Brule), Chief Scott St. Martin (Hudson), Chief Peter Manning (Neosho), and Chief David Dean (Hartland) to the WSFCA board. Thanks to Chief Tim Bantes, Chief Jon Cohn, and the rest of the board members for all of their effort to get us here. Now we must adjust to the new board dynamic and ensure that we receive the anticipated value from our efforts. If there are activities in any region of the state where it would be helpful for WSFCA to participate or have a presence, please contact us. We will work with our regional trustees to be there.
As I thought about what enlightening information I would share in this President’s message (ha!), I have to admit that it was challenging for me to put my thoughts into words. When I joined the Campbell Fire Department 21 years ago, if you would have told me that someday I would be provided the honor of serving as the President of the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs’ Association, as your elected leader, I probably would have responded with some words that would not be fit to print. At a minimum, I wouldn’t have believed it. Campbell is located on French Island, and those of us that live there call ourselves “Islanders”. We have a unique identity in the area, and it’s also part of our sense of pride and community. We’re…scrappy. You see, although I love our fire department dearly, we are not big, or wealthy. Our members have a lot of pride in our community and the services that we provide, and we do our best every day to make them the best that we can. We’re not always perfect, but we are always trying to be a little bit better tomorrow Than we are today. I joined the association, paying my own dues out of my own pocket each year, for the value that WSFCA could bring to help me be a better Fire Chief for our department. I figured that I would jump into things, and increase volunteer representation in the group. I thought that a little guy like me might not have as important of a place in all of this, but I quickly learned that I was wrong. In fact, in this organization, everyone makes a difference together. It’s what we’re all about, and it is this way by design. Thank you for believing in me, just like the members of my department have. Having the opportunity to serve on the board, as your President, is a privilege that blesses our department, my family, and I. If there is someone else out there who has considered participating in WSFCA on any level and hasn’t felt that they would fit in, take it from me, there is a place for you with us. If some kid from French Island can have a place here, make a difference in the State’s fire service, and build lifelong friendships in this organization, you can too. This leads me to some of the ways that our association brings value in education to members. Our National Fire Academy (NFA) Wisconsin weekend continues to bring great training and lets us bring in NFA classes at a low cost, in an accessible way, to our state. Chief Matt Davies, Superintendent of the Wisconsin Emergency Services Academy, works diligently for us to have great experiences at Volk Field, and we are fortunate to have his support there. The same rings true with the WSFCA In-Service events, including the South event last year at Volk Field and the North In-Service in Wausau. As we look to the future, we need to recognize that we are in a sea of change in our fire service. We must think and act strategically for us to move ourselves forward and realize opportunities for WSFCA to support our mission. This includes revisiting our strategic plan, and developing our path toward the future. We need to build clear goals aligned to this strategic plan and execute tasks positioned to achieving those goals.
Our efforts in health and wellness task forces have been effective, but we continue to see that there is a greater need for us to do more in this area. Other organizations in emergency services throughout Wisconsin are seeing the same need and we will continue on our path until we can effectively partner together to help everyone.
Last year was a huge legislative year, Chief David Bloom and Chief Jon Cohn had their hands full. They showed strong advocacy in Madison on behalf of WSFCA and the fire service. We will look to continue this effort into the next legislative session. One area of focus for us is school safety and we will continue to find ways to preserve fire safety in schools, while addressing some conflicts between fire codes and active shooter response needs. For example, temporary barricade devices violate current code, but can save lives. We are actively working to resolve this in Wisconsin. It is important for us to remember that we are not in these seas alone. While we continue to lead the way as the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs, we also seek and foster collaboration with partner organizations. Whether that is other aligned organizations in Wisconsin, or on a broader level with neighboring state organizations, we’re working to align common goals and move forward together.
Here’s the good news… WSFCA continues to be a healthy organization and is financially strong. I’m reminded of that when our Treasurer, Chief Joe Pfaff, reviews the financials and holds us accountable for them. As we look to the future, we do need to keep identifying ways for us to stay strong, transparent, and consistent, while reaching beyond the status quo for continuous improvement. As our association motto states: together we make a difference and we will continue to work together to do this. I hope that everyone enjoys what remains of this beautiful Summer and have a safe and happy Fall! If I can be of service, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
Yours in service,
Chief Nathaniel J. Melby
President, Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs’ Association