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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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$3 Million Grant Awarded For Peshtigo Fire/EMS Projects

Issue Date: June 2, 2022

On Tuesday, May 31, Peshtigo Mayor Cathi Malke was delighted to be informed by the office of Gov. Tony Evers that the city will be getting a $3,001,379 grant through the Wisconsin Department of Administration's pandemic response program after all.

The city had previously been notified that its application for a small share of the $212 million being distributed through the through the Neighborhood Investment Fund and/or the $100 million Healthcare Infrastructure Capital Grant program was not successful, despite a high score on previously announced application rating criteria.

Then, on Tuesday Gov. Evers announced that another $22 million had been added to the grant programs, and Peshtigo's application was among those that were newly approved for funding. A $7,000,000 grant for fire station expansion for the City of Oconto Falls was also among projects included in the recent round of funding.

The added $22 million of funding focused awards on support of fire station construction and expansion, and support or emergency medical service projects, plus a permanent drive-through immunization and testing site.

Peshtigo's grant proceeds are to be spent between now and 2024 to expand the city's two fire stations, add a computer to the library, who will also have a 20' addition, and add Emergency Medical Response capabilities to the services the volunteer firefighters already provide for the city.

The Neighborhood Investment Fund and Healthcare Infrastructure Capital Investment programs are administered by the Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA) and funded through the American Rescue Plan Act.

The DOA website states that, on behalf of the State of Wisconsin, they intend to issue grant awards to the recipients shown, but cautions: "This letter constitutes the intent to issue grant awards only and is not a contractual commitment. Following receipt of this notice, the recipients identified in the award table will be contacted by the State to formalize a contractual commitment. Grant awards are contingent upon successful negotiations and the State's determination of its best interests. The State remains the sole determinant of its best interests."

Discussions at City Council meetings before the grant application submission was approved included reports that police officers could also be trained in Emergency Medical Response and police personnel would also benefit from improved facilities for the fire department.

"Project Stop The Clock" is what Mayor Malke has dubbed the plans to provide local Emergency Medical Response services through the Fire Department. As a first responder with Emergency Rescue Squad, she knows first-hand how much life saving difference a few minutes can make when a life hangs on the balance.

Currently the City of Peshtigo depends on the Marinette-based Emergency Rescue Squad and Aurora Bay Area Paramedics to respond to calls for emergency medical assistance. Many times paramedics are resonding to calls in the outlying areas.

Back in November the City had submitted its application for a share of the $200 million being distributed through the Neighborhood Investment Fund and/or the $100 million Healthcare Infrastructure Capital Grant program. The grant application documents, including preliminary fire station design, had been prepared with assistance from Bay Lakes Regional Planning Commission (at no cost to the city) and U.P. Engineers & Architects (at minimal cost).

Despite rating a score of 91 for the application submitted prior to the Nov. 11, 2021 deadline, the city was later notified it had not been selected to receive any of the $200 million in the original distribution of grant funds.

The decision to add money to the program resulted in Peshtigo's project now being approved for expansion of the city's two fire stations, one located in the Municipal Building at 331 French Street and the other at 800 Pine Street. Added space will be provided for firefighting equipment and and medical equipment, which will enable the city to add EMS services to fire department responsibilities.

Firefighters have already agreed to take the training necessary to deal with emergency medical responses, and Fire Chief Chuck Gardon said he fully supports the proposal.

At meetings last summer and fall, Gardon had told City Council that members of his department had already expressed their willingness to get the needed training and take on the Emergency Medical Response responsibilities.

At its Oct. 14 meeting, Chief Gardon had told City Council: "One important thing is, we brought it up at our Fire Department meeting and our people are willing to train in at least the first aid and first responders and part of that grant would be used to do that training and more." He said they are looking into other funding sources for equipment and possibly rescue squad vehicles for the emergency medical response work, and they have been talking about these issues with Cindy Swan of Bay Lakes.

"This is an attempt to offer additional service for our Community," Gardon said, adding that Peshtigo does have EMS service now, "but we can partner with the Emergency Rescue Squad."

At a subsequent Council meeting, Gardon said Police Chief Fred Popp and other officers on the Peshtigo Police Department had met with them the previous day, and they were all pleased that something will be done. Gardon said with adequate space the fire station could include a kitchen and a weight room that police could also use.

Alderman Debbie Sievert commented it is a given that adding to the fire station would make it possible to expand space for police as well.

There was a suggestion that the new fire stations could be like public services buildings, with areas that could be used by all three services - police, fire and EMS.

There was more talk at the October Council meeting about time saved before other emergency medical help could arrive. Gardon said the idea is to work as a team with Emergency Rescue Squad and Bay Area Medical Center. He said all 14 firefighters present for a recent department meeting had been in favor of adding first responder training and responsibilities. He said there will be two people assigned per vehicle to be on call, "and if they need a full crew, we'll send a full crew."

The grants were offered in a fast moving plan from the state. The opportunity to apply was announced on Sept. 30, 2021, with the application deadline set for Nov. 4 but subsequently extended to Nov. 11. The initial grant awards were announced in December, and recipients had until 2024 to finalize plans and spend the money, but the finalization deadline reportedly has now been extended, particularly for the latest round of grant recipients.

In announcing the added grant awards on May 31, Gov. Evers declared: "We have been working hard to invest in projects that will help build stronger, healthier communities across our state. From De Pere to Waupun, we're excited to continue this important work by making sure our rural communities have adequate emergency response options, updating our fire stations, facilities, and services....By preparing for whatever comes next, we're not only strengthening pandemic response in our communities, but building the future we want for our families, our communities, and our state."

 The Evers' press release said the grants also build on Gov. Evers' announcement during his 2022 State of the State address "...that he planned to invest nearly $30 million into supporting and stabilizing Wisconsin's EMS system across the state, including $20 million toward EMS providers across the state for whatever help they need the most, whether it's increasing staffing support, more training for first responders, or purchasing an ambulance, medical equipment, or supplies, plus $8 million for the Funding Assistance Program (FAP), which provides annual grants to all public ambulance service providers, including volunteer fire departments, nonprofits, and counties and municipalities, as well as $12 million for one-time, flexible grants, prioritizing small, under-resourced EMS providers who do not qualify for FAP to use for whatever they need, including staffing, equipment, supplies, or other expenses."

It was through the efforts of Mayor Cathi Malke working in conjunction with the Governor's office, that the grant applications for the City of Peshtigo was revisited. Mayor Malke thanked Gov. Evers for re-visiting the application which shows the need for EMS services in our rural communities.

Mayor Malke stated that the grant which is 100% funded, will allow Peshtigo to continue to move forward adding services as the city expands. Once the project is completed it could mean the difference between life and death for the city residents.


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