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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Peshtigo Council Accepts $3 Million Grant For City

Issue Date: June 9, 2022

Except for approving some major changes to the city's Minimum Housing and Property Maintenance Code and the fee schedule to go with it, the Peshtigo City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 7 was nearly all about the volunteer fire department.

By unanimous vote early in the meeting aldermen unanimously accepted terms and conditions of a $3,001,379 Neighborhood Investment Grant that will provide for expansion of fire department facilities, equipment and training to add emergency medical response to services the volunteer firefighters already provide.

In addition to expanding the city's two fire stations and providing equipment and training for emergency medical response, Peshtigo's grant project will add space and another computer for the library, and add space for the police department, and allow for parking lot improvements at both fire stations.

Currently emergency medical calls from Peshtigo are handled through EMS services based in Marinette. Peshtigo Fire Chief Chuck Gardon said once the new system is up and running Peshtigo firefighters will work as partners with the Emergency Rescue Squad, providing quick response times because they are locally based.

The grant money comes from over $222 million in ARPA funds dispersed by the Wisconsin Department of Administration. The city's application had been rejected in the first round of grant approvals despite a high score. Last week Gov. Tony Evers announced $22 million additional grant funds had been approved, and the Peshtigo project was funded.

At the end of Tuesday's meeting life saving awards were presented to volunteer firefighters from both the City and Town of Peshtigo Fire Departments who saved the lives of three young adults who nearly drowned after their jet ski capsized in the raging waters of the Peshtigo River just above the dam on Saturday, May 14. The three had managed to cling to cables by the bridge until help arrived. Eventually the jet ski went over the dam. It was later found downstream, basically undamaged. Water levels in the river were extremely high at the time, due to spring thaws and recent heavy rains.

Observers from shore called 911 when the jet ski overturned, and City of Peshtigo Fire Department were on the scene in just four and a half minutes, with rescue gear ready to go. Town of Peshtigo Fire Department had already been asked to bring their rescue boat to the scene, and they arrived in less than six minutes.

There was a large turnout of Peshtigo Police Officers and fire fighters from the City and Town of Peshtigo for the award presentations. Chief Gardon said it was great to see "so many blue shirts" here, and declared on the day of the rescue, "Our department and the Town of Peshtigo Fire Department did a great job, along with our Police Department." Chief Gardon also saluted Peshtigo resident Douglas Van Winkle, who is a member of the City of Marinette Fire Department but was among those who responded to the call for help with the rescue.

Chief Gardon noted how close the jet ski accident had come to being a tragedy, and declared, "The Good Lord that day was looking down on us and on the potential victims - the three young adults who were able to go home to their families instead of to a funeral home that day."

The first round of award certificates went to the City of Peshtigo firefighters who responded to the rescue call. They were Lieutenant David Swiatnicki, Lieutenant Christopher Gardon, Firefighter Brandon Lindsey, 2nd Assistant Chief Joel Ahrens and Fire Chief Chuck Gardon.

Mayor Cathi Malke expressed thanks to the volunteers "for your service and all your dedication."

Town of Peshtigo Fire Chief Mike Folgert supervised the award presentation for fire fighters of his department who had so promptly responded with their rescue boat. They were Assistant Chief Rich Seils, firefighters Gabe Aschbacher, Darren Jacobson, Adam Staszak, Jed Buechler, Lieutenant Joe Paoli, Captains Derek Monnette and Ryan Kass.

Darren Jacobsen had been pilot of the boat that was able to collect one of the jet ski occupants and bring her to safety.

Mayor Malke thanked the town fire fighters for responding to the rescue call, "and for all you do for the City of Peshtigo." and commented that she and Assistant Fire Chief Seils had worked together on the Rescue Squad for over 25 years.

After the presentations were complete the Council meeting was adjourned and everyone was invited to stay for a brief reception in honor of the life saving volunteers.

All aldermen were present for the meeting, along with Malke, City Attorney David Spangenberg, Parks and Recreation Director Lori Tonn, Police Chief Fred Popp and others, including many family members of the firefighters who were being honored.

The evening began with a public hearing on the housing code ordinance revisions. No one from the public spoke for or against the ordinance, and the hearing was promptly adjourned. Later in the meeting it the ordinance changes were unanimously approved.

To questions from other aldermen before, Alderman Brigitte Schmidt said she had spoken with Building Inspector Tom Smith earlier in the day, and he had agreed to do the inspections for the $100 that will be charged. Owners of residential rental units are now required to have their properties inspected every four years, or if there is a complaint. If there are violations found they must be corrected, and Council approved an additional $50 fee for the re-inspection to be sure the problem has been corrected properly.

Complaints about private residences will also be addressed in accord with terms of the ordinance.

Malke suggested the city should to look at compensation paid to Smith for what he does.

The three speakers during time for public comment stressed the importance of quick response in medical emergencies, and expressed their support for the grant that will enable the fire department volunteers to provide emergency medical response to the services they provide for the city.

First to speak was Denise Koronkiewicz, who said she had not realized how important quick medical response could be until her father had a stroke two weeks ago. She said she called her son, Derek to help, and Mayor Malke, who happened to be passing by, stopped and assisted her until the EMS responders arrived from Marinette 15 minutes later. They took him to Aurora Bay Area Hospital and later to Green Bay where he had emergency surgery to remove the blood clot from his brain. "I don't know how many times I have been told that my father is a healthy functioning adult today because of his care during that 15-minute response time," Koronkiewicz said.

Next speaker was Irene Mayou, who said she lives in Marinette but spends a lot of time in Peshtigo. Mayou said she has has been a member of the Emergency Rescue Squad for over 30 years, and knows the importance of swift local response. She said 27 years ago they had started the Peshtigo unit of ERS, but there are now few available to respond in Peshtigo, so the responders come from Marinette and can never get to the scene as quickly as a unit based in the city.

"We still have Emergency Rescue Squad coming to Peshtigo, but it's not like having people right here," Mayou said. "In that first 15 minutes you can lose your life, lose a limb, lose quality of life. There's no reason the citizens of Peshtigo should be penalized because there is no hospital located here."

Final speaker was Bob Ellison, who said twice in his life quick medical response was critical for him. The first time was 40 years ago, when he had three fingers chopped off in an accident at the paper mill. He told of watching those fingers get carried off on the conveyor belt, and then of the quick medical response and a speeding trip to Madison where those three fingers were surgically restored. He said in cases like those, there are a limited number of hours before it is too late to have severed body parts sewn back on. That time, the response time was possible because the rescue squad just happened to be near the area when the accident happened.

Ellison said the next time he had to call 911 he had heart issues. "Boy...when you need medical help, it's really nice to have it there!" he declared, and concluded, "We've got a lot of good members on our fire department, and I think they will also do a good job as medical first responders."

At the start of Council discussion on accepting the COVID-related grant, Malke noted it is fully financed, with no requirement for matching funds. She said she had been upset when Peshtigo's application was denied in the first grant announcements, since their application scored 91, while many other communities with lower scores had their projects funded. "For Brown County to get $15 million to move a coal pile does nothing to make anyone safer from COVID," she declared.

Malke called on Fire Chief Gardon to explain how the money will be used. Gardon said he and others on the fire department are hoping the Council will approve the project and accept the funding to support it. "We're all here to help our citizens," Gardon declared." He said as EMS responders the volunteer firefighters who live in Peshtigo will be able to respond to 911 emergency medical calls in less than half the time, and they will partner with ERS of Marinette for transport and for other EMS services.

Gardon said in addition to fire calls, the 911 emergency number gets 400 calls a year from people in Peshtigo who need emergency medical services, and if they can partner with ERS everyone will be better off.

Council approved the grant and the EMS project without dissent.

Alderman Katie Berman asked if they might add to the EMS services down the road, and if accepting the grant will lead to future expenses that they have not allowed for.

Malke said she and Clerk/Treasurer Tammy Kasal had been discussing that, and felt after three years the fire department might need more money to provide EMS training for the volunteer firefighters.

Kasal said they could have a referendum to exceed the property tax levy limit, or they could use money from the capital investment account to pay the EMS training costs, and then borrow to replenish the funds. She said providing an extra $50,000 a year would add about $30 a year to the property taxes on a $100,000 home.

Alderman Debbie Sievert, who heads the Finance Committee, thanked Malke for all the work she had done to get the grant for the city. "I know you made a lot of phone calls and wrote a lot of letters, and I want you to know we appreciate it," she added.

Malke, a long-time ERS volunteer, said later that she gets a bit emotional over rescue squad issues. "Rescue, police, and fire personnel deal with people when they are most vulnerable," she said. "We know everybody. We share their pain. We get emotional with them. When they are the most vulnerable is when we are there for them." She said the job of the mayor and aldermen is to provide for the needs of city residents, and this grant, along with willingness of the volunteer fire fighters to take on the added responsibilities, will help them do that.

Carrie Brazeau, a candidate for Clerk of Courts for Marinette County, addressed the Council with a request for support in the primary election on Tuesday, Aug. 9. She outlined her 22 years of legal job experience, including the last seven years in Marinette County Clerk of Courts office, where she has been trained to fill six specific positions. Brazeau said she is designated lead worker when the current Clerk of Courts has to be out of the office, and has the backing of over 16 attorneys and public officials in the justice system.

Alderman Keith Klimek, reporting for the Streets and Drainage Committee, moved to allow the Public works department to again collect concrete and blacktop to be ground for use on city projects. The motion was unanimously approved.

Alderman Katie Berman reporting for the Water & Sewer Committee, said they had asked the Council to acknowledge the City Mayor as authorized representative for the city's wastewater management system improvements and related activities. Her motion to that effect was approved without dissent.

All malt beverage and intoxicating liquor license requests were approved for annual renewal as presented. Council no longer needs to act on operator licenses.

Alderman Allen England reported for the Fire, Lighting and Building Committee. Alderman Berman said she volunteers regularly for the Peshtigo Food Pantry, and their site was recently moved from its location on McGraw Street to a new site on French Street, directly across from Riverfront Park. She said they asked to have the Little Library post moved to a new location at the park, so it will still be easily accessible from the food pantry, and said park patrons can then get reading material from the Little Library to read while relaxing there. Berman said a Lions Club member has volunteered to move the post at no charge. She abstained from voting, and everyone else voted in favor of a motion to accept the offer. The Fire, Lighting and Building Committee had previously approved the Little Library re-location. The exact site of the post is to be selected by Tonn.


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