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Former County emergency manager: Mills Fire Department cuts ‘alarming’

(Mills Fire Department via Facebook)

CASPER, Wyo. — Stew Anderson said that he previously served as the Natrona County Emergency Manager for 28 years.

Anderson said that he’s aware of the Mills Town Council decision to cut the nine firefighters employed by Mills after June 30. Mills would retain only administrative staff to conduct services such as inspections.

“I was in shock like everyone else,” said Anderson of learning of the decision. “It should be concerning to anyone in Mills and anyone in the county or anyone driving through Mills.”

He said he is concerned not only because response times could increase when Mills has no emergency services, but because Mills has only one of only three full ambulance services in the area, the other two being the Wyoming Medical Center and the Town of Evansville.

“You’re going to eliminate a third of [those services],” he said.

Anderson said that he understands that the Mills Town Council is in a difficult position.

“The Town Council has a tough job,” he said. “That’s kind of a rough go, it really limits resources.”

Anderson said he suspects Mills may have some difficulties if they attempt to transition back to a volunteer fire service.

“It’s getting tougher and tougher to find volunteers nationwide,” he said.

Anderson also spoke to whether he thought contracting with outside agencies to provide emergency services was a viable option for Mills.

“It depends on how they contract with that outside agency,” he said, adding that should Mills contract with Bar Nunn, that town has no hospital transport.

“Right now, Mills offers advanced life support [EMT services],” he said, pointing out that Bar Nunn offers only basic life support.

He said that relying on providing ambulance services to generate funding was not realistic.

“You have to understand, public safety agencies do not make money,” Anderson said.

He added that the cutting the fire department would likely affect Mills Class One ISO rating.

“You’re not going to get the same insurance rating,” he said.

Anderson said that were he a resident of Mills, he’d like to know that the Town Council had exhausted all of their options before taking such a measure.

“I suppose if I was a resident, I’d want to know what trimming or other budget cutbacks have been done,” he said.

Anderson said that he understands that the Town Council wants to free up funding for infrastructure projects.

“They do have to have funding for their infrastructure,” he said, adding that Mills is in a position common in the state. “Wyoming is resource poor because we’re very rural.”

Anderson added that in his understanding, Mills could still choose to use One-Cent optional sales tax funding for their fire department.

“A governing body, I believe, can use the One Cent funding for what they think it is needed for,” he said.

Casper Mountain Fire Protection District Treasurer David Mowry said that the CMFPD Board discussed the Town Council’s decision during their Sunday, May 5 meeting.

“We were concerned because Mills helps a lot with wildfires in the summertime,” Mowry said. “Will it have an impact on us?”

Mowry said that the CMFPD is not taking a position on the decision at this time and said they don’t have information other than what the public knows.

“We’ve been getting as much info from the media as from anybody else,” he said.

Mowry emphasized that his opinions on the decision are personal and do not represent the CMFPD. He said that he was one of the first people in a Mills cadet program while the fire department was still volunteer.

“I still know quite a few people over there,” he said.

“What does the Town of Mills plan to do to replace them?” he asked. “Do you have a plan to fill that hole?”

Mowry said he was aware of the Mills Professional Firefighters statement that called the Town Council’s decision “retaliatory.”

“It does make a person wonder,” he said. “If it was such a great concern, why wasn’t it brought up beforehand?”

Mowry said that whether or not the way the Town Council chose to communicate the decision was purposeful, it may have created the perception that the Council was acting from alternative motives.

“What avenues have actually been looked at to solve this financial issue?” Mowry asked. “Have they looked at grants or fundraisers?”

Mowry said that he expects that response times will at least double once Mills no longer has a full fire department.

“This affects our entire community,” he said.

Mowry said he thinks the Town Council should reconsider their position on One Cent funding.

“You know, maybe you say, ‘We do need to use some One Cent funding for this,'” he said. “You’re not selling a product, you’re saving lives.”