For more than two hours, Mills residents pleaded with the Town Council to keep the Mills Fire Department, which the Council had voted April 24 to lay off, effective July 1.
Residents were lined up into the hallway of Mills Town Hall on May 8, waiting to speak in favor of the town’s fire department. Mayor Seth Coleman said it was the most people he had seen at a council meeting in his six years attending them.
Their grievances included concern for the nine firefighters who will be laid off if the decision is not reversed and questions about public safety. Almost everybody who spoke said cutting the department would result in tragic consequences.
But before opening the floor to public comment, Coleman made a 10-minute statement detailing the various ways Mills has tried to cut spending, including leaving parks and police department positions open. He also attempted to further explain the rationale for the decision to eliminate the town’s firefighters, saying comparably-sized towns do not have their own fire departments.
When public comment began, Coleman and the Council struggled to provide answers that satisfied residents, particularly in response to concerns over public safety and emergency response times.
Katherine White, a Mills resident and registered nurse who contracts with Wyoming Medical Center, said without the Mills Fire Department providing emergency medical care, the burden will fall to the medical center.
“Being a registered nurse, I know how busy the Wyoming Medical Center is,” she said. She worried WMC would not be able to provide the same fast response. She added the Mills Fire Department knows the area better.
She recalled a time her friend’s toddler had a medical emergency.
“WMC couldn’t even find the place,” she said. “Had we not had the (Mills) Fire Department, that 2-year-old would be dead.”
White was not the only person to bring up matters of life and death. Several residents shared similar stories of the Mills Fire Department beating neighboring emergency responders to the scene of emergencies.
Former Mills firefighter Jared Kelly confirmed this with the Star-Tribune. When asked how often the Mills Department was the first to arrive to the scene, he said it happened all the time.
“Mills gets there first for anything west of Poplar Street,” he said.
Coleman said the Council was evaluating options to ensure response times did not increase. When pressed for details about what those options would entail, he said he could not reveal that information.
“We are really looking forward to sharing these with everybody,” Coleman said of options the town is considering. But for legal reasons, he could not provide those immediately, he said.
“It will be shortly,” he said when asked how soon he would be able to provide those details.
Since Mills officials voted to reduce the department to administrative services only — meaning the department would only complete building inspections and uphold the fire code rather than respond to emergencies — a number of stakeholders have predicted increased response times for emergencies in Mills and the surrounding communities, including Mills interim Fire Chief Justin Melin and Casper Fire Chief Thomas Solberg.
Coleman told residents who asked for more details on the town’s plan to prevent that from happening that he would likely be able to reveal more within the next two weeks.