On January 1, 2014, the South Area Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) District begins operations in the Village of Weston and the Town of Rib Mountain, Wisconsin, with the merger of the Weston and Rib Mountain Fire Departments. Operating out of two stations, (Station 1 in Rib Mountain and Station 2 in Weston) SAFER is a combination department that offers full fire and emergency medical services at the paramedic level. Additionally, we offer confined space rescue, high and low-angle rope rescue, water rescue, ice rescue, and interfacility transfer services at the RN and critical care paramedic level.
SAFER's first Fire Chief is Paul Wirth (former Rib Mountain Fire Chief) and Steve Meilahn is appointed as the Deputy Fire Chief (former Weston Fire Chief) working Monday through Friday out of Station 1. Six full-time Battalion Chiefs lead the three shifts between the two stations with four part-time firefighters/ EMTs who are split between the two stations. In total, SAFER operates with a duty crew of 6 individuals (BC and 2 part-time EMT/FFs at each station) and two administrative staff, for a total of 8 FTEs with part-time personnel.
When the district is created, our apparatus fleet is inherited from the Village of Weston and the Town of Rib Mountain and rebranding begins with "South Area Fire District" being placed on each of the apparatus. In 2014, the first District apparatus purchase is made as a PL Custom ambulance is put into service.
In June 2014, Fire Chief Paul Wirth retires and Deputy Fire Chief Steve Meilahn is promoted to Fire Chief. Battalion Chief Matt Savage is promoted to Deputy Fire Chief.
2015 - 2016
In June 2015, Fire Chief Steve Mielahn retires and Deputy Fire Chief Matt Savage is promoted to Fire Chief. Josh Finke, who works as the City of Wausau Fire Department's EMS Division Chief, is hired as the Deputy Fire Chief.
In the Fall of 2015, SAFER adds two full-time administrative positions, Fire Marshal and EMS Division Chief. Captain Marty Christiansen is promoted to Fire Marshal and Battalion Chief Kelly Bechel is promoted to EMS Division Chief. Administrative staff now consists of 4 full-time personnel: Fire Chief, Deputy Fire Chief, EMS Division Chief, and Fire Marshal who work Monday through Friday out of Station 1. SAFER now has 10 FTEs with part-time personnel.
In 2016, the district purchases our first fire apparatus, Rescue 21, a CustomFire rescue pumper on a Spartan chassis housed at Station 2.
2017 - 2021
With the increase in call volume and interfacility transfers, daily staffing in 2017 increases from 6 to 7, with a Battalion Chief and 3 part-time firefighter/EMTs staffing station 2 in Weston and a Battalion Chief and 2 part-time firefighter/EMTs staffing station 1 in Rib Mountain. To further help with staffing, 2018 saw the creating of majoirty-time positions. Majoirty-time personnel are limited benefit full-time positions. Additional staffing changes include adding career Engineer/Paramedic positions; 1 in 2018, 1 in 2019, and 2 in 2021 as we transition part-time staff positions with full-time Engineer/Paramedics. At the end of 2021, SAFER is operating with 14 FTEs, majority-time, and part-time personnel.
In 2018, our first part-time administrative assistant is hired. Initially, this position conducts agenda creation and takes minutes for SAFER Board and SAFER Commission meetings, working less than 20 hours a month. By late 2018 additional responsibilities are added and the administrative assistant, working to assist the Fire Chief and Deputy Fire Chief, works 20+ hours a week.
In 2021, daily staffing includes 11 firefighter/EMTs (administration included) M-F 08:00-16:00 and seven firefighter/EMTs (Battalion Chiefs included) all remaining hours, weekends, and holidays. Station staffing consists of a Battalion Chief and 2 FF/EMTs at station 1 and a Battalion Chief and 3 FF/EMTs at station 2. As a combination department, SAFER's staffing model includes career, majority-time (full-time with limited benefits), and part-time firefighter/EMTs that staff our two stations 24 hours a day, responding to more than 3900 calls for service in 2021.
In 2021 we hire our first full-time Captain as we transition our management model from 6 Battalion Chiefs (1 at each station each day, or 2 per shift) to 3 Battalion Chiefs and 3 Captains (BC staffing station 2 and Captain staffing station 1 each day).
In the winter of 2021, we take possession of Med 107 - a Braun ambulance on a 2021 Ford Ford Chassis. We also take possession of a new UTV for wildland fires at station 2. A 2021 Intimidator GC1K with an Ultra high-pressure fire suppression system from EJ Metals.
In January of 2022, SAFER begins a rebranding project as we transition away from "South Area Fire District" and embrace "South Area Fire and Emergency Response" or SAFER District. A new logo is created by Battalion Chief Stephen Genrich, and put into service. On the left side of this page is our old patch/logo, with our new patch/logo placed on the right.
Fire Chief Matt Savage resigns from his position with the district in early 2022. Deputy Fire Chief Josh Finke is appointed to Interim Fire Chief and Battalion Chief Eric Lang is appointed to Interim Deputy Fire Chief as the SAFER commission conducts a state-wide search for the next SAFER Fire Chief. Also, a search is conducted as the Green shift Battalion Chief has resigned and is replaced with our second full-time Captain. In March, Blue shift staffing is increased to 8 FF/EMTs with a Captain and 2 FF/EMTs at station 1 and a Battalion Chief, Engineer, and 3 FF/EMTs at station 2.
In April 2022, Deputy Chief Josh Finke is promoted to Fire Chief and in May, Battalion Chief Eric Lang is promoted to Deputy.
In May of 2022, SAFER takes ownership of a new Hovercraft, purchased through the 2021 approved capital budget process. The Hovercraft is a neoteric brand, 4-person hovercraft. Two Battalion Chiefs are sent to Indiana to pick up the hovercraft and attend two days of intensive training. Once it arrives in the District, training begins for all personnel. The Hovercraft will be used for water and ice rescues on the Wisconsin River, Rib River, Eau Claire River, and Lake Wausau and for mutual-aid responses as requested.
On June 1, 2022, the station 2 Battalion Chief position on Red shift is filled with our 3rd full-time Captain. The Captain is placed at station 1, and the station 1 Battalion Chief is moved to station 2. SAFER's management model transition is now complete, with 3 Battalion Chiefs staffing station 2 in the Village of Weston and 3 Captains staffing station 1 in the Town of Rib Mountain.
Staffing in June 2022 is: Captain, Engineer, FF/EMT at station 1 on Red shift; Battalion Chief, Engineer, 2 FF/EMTs at station 2 on Red shift; Captain, 2 FF/EMTs at station 1 on Green shift; Battalion Chief, Engineer, 2 FF/EMTs at station 2 on Green shift; Captain, 2 FF/EMTs at station 1 on Blue shift; Battalion Chief, Engineer, 3 FF/EMTs at station 2 on Blue shift.
Also, in 2022, we updated our fleet with several deliveries and purchases for future deployment. All apparatus can be found in the "Fire, Rescue, EMS" tab found under the "About SAFER" heading.
In 2023 SAFER continues to be progressive. With input from the staff, SAFER changes the work schedule from a 24-hour California schedule (ABABCBCACABABC) to a 48/96 schedule (AABBCCAABBCC). We also increased staffing to 8 personnel for 12 hours a day during peak times (9:00 am - 9:00 pm) and hired two full-time Engineers. This brings our full-time staff to 16 with approximately 34 part-time staff. Daily staffing across all shifts is seven personnel 24 hours a day, with eight personnel during peak times (9:00 am - 9:00 pm).
In January 2023 SAFER adds 2 more FTEs. Staffing is; Captain, Engineer, FF/EMT for 24 hours across all shifts at station 1 and a Battalion Chief, Engineer, 2 FF/EMTs for 24 hours and a 12-hour FF/EMT at station 2 across all shifts. SAFER now employs 16 FTEs with majority-time and part-time personnel to staff 8 personnel 12 hours a day and 7 personnel 24/7.