The Brookfield fire sees increased calls and easier recruiting. Brookfield police report otherwise.

BROOKFIELD — They cover the same city — doing so with strong support reflected in the city budget — but a review of emergency call data and interviews with local leaders show Brookfield police and firefighters are faced with opposite challenges lately.

Even though the fire district saw the number of 911 calls increase by 30% last year, Brookfield Volunteer Fire Department No. 1 Chief Andrew Ellis reported no problems recruiting and retain new members.

“Our department is very unique in that we don’t have staffing issues, we don’t have issues answering calls,” Ellis said.

City police, however, are responding to fewer calls, and department management is struggling to hire.

According to data provided by the department, Brookfield police responded to 11,700 calls in 2021 and 12,200 in 2020, compared to 14,500 calls for service in 2019.

“We were doing nothing but emergency calls,” Police Chief John Puglisi said of police work during the pandemic.

Police challenges

The city’s top police official said the drop in recent years could largely be attributed to a decrease in motor vehicle-related calls. The department recorded 1,968 motor vehicle stops in 2019, but that number fell 66.8% to 654 in 2020. It fell further to 479 in 2021.

“The assaults, that kind of thing remained equal. But motor vehicle stops, parking violations, car accidents — they’ve gone down but the severity has gone up. This was all due to less traffic on the road and higher speeds,” he said.

The observation is consistent with a statewide trend. According to the state Department of Transportation, the number of people who died in car crashes in 2020 rose to 301, a jump of 21% from the previous year. Last year the death toll continued to rise, with recent estimates putting the figure at 323.

With calls waning grimly no sign of a need for less policing, Puglisi noted that a wave of recent retirements in the small department has pushed Brookfield police into a scene of frustrating hiring.

“Several senior officers retired, we also had retirements or for various reasons,” Puglisi said. “While normally we would have a few hundred people applying for a police position, I think we had 60.”

Of the pool of available candidates, the police chief added, only six held the current certifications sought by the department.

“We didn’t hire any of them because they took jobs elsewhere or changed their minds, so yeah the numbers are down significantly,” Puglisi said.

Although federal data shows that local police departments across the country have lost less than 1% of their employees compared to the 6% lost in the overall economy, a well-documented chorus of police chiefs and local leaders to across the country indicates low staffing levels and a lack of qualified personnel. candidates available to become police officers.

Still, Puglisi said in a small department like Brookfield, even one or two retirements challenge what he sees as a difficult search for new officers. Including civilian staff, there are 50 members of the department.

Acknowledging that his department receives generous support from the city and is adapting to its staffing challenges, the chief described recruiting and retaining employees and officers as an uphill battle amid what he sees as negativity. associated with the general message about law enforcement as a career path.

“We haven’t had any layoffs, we haven’t had any budget cuts,” Puglisi said. “I think it’s the general atmosphere, which I think we’re getting out of a bit, but it’s always reflected in the number of people we have applying for these jobs.”

To help change the narrative, the department’s community affairs team worked to get involved in the community by visiting the local senior center and hosting events such as “coffee with a cop” and the ” Annual national evening of the department – organized last August. at City Hall, the inaugural event featured games, food, live music and a “police helicopter demonstration,” all to promote “police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie “.

The idea behind the efforts is to increase the number of people who might have a positive interaction with a police officer — or, at least, any interaction outside of the normal course of duty, Puglisi said.

“All those events that do good press for the police department, or get our word out, because often the only times people have to deal with us are the worst times in their lives,” he said. .

Scenario opposed to the fire department

Between 2017 and 2021, data provided by Ellis shows that the 70 volunteers in his department saw a 44% increase in the total number of fire calls answered. During the same period, the 24 EMS personnel in the Volunteer Fire District saw a 28% increase in calls.

A second-generation fire chief at Brookfield Volunteer Fire District No. 1 and a lifelong resident of the town, Ellis and 10 other volunteer service members work full-time as professional firefighters in a nearby township.

Ellis attributed the increase in calls mainly to the fact that “people are often at home because of the pandemic”. On a regular basis, public health guidelines and rising levels of COVID-19 cases meant more people were cooking or using their fireplaces, he said. Before that, “40 hours a week or more they were away from home,” he said.

At the same time, the city’s growing population and resident turnover amid the housing boom brought by the pandemic have helped push the department toward a more “full-service” department, he said. added.

“If you have a problem and no one else can help you, you call the fire department, whether it’s plumbing, electrical, anything like that – the garage door won’t go up no – plus regular emergency calls, that’s just the nature of the business now,” he said.

The upward trend in calls for fire services and EMS continues in 2022 – compared to 167 calls in the first quarter of last year, firefighters responded to 251 at the start of this year.

Ellis said members of his department are well equipped for the job, as he and others focus on “member recruitment and retention” to build the future.

The volunteer position offers a small stipend and insurance benefits across town. But of the members with 50 years of service to new volunteers who joined as early as “last night”, Ellis said “people who volunteer to become firefighters and paramedics are not motivated by a stipend”.

“Not at all,” Ellis told The News Times when asked if recruiting was a struggle. “We have very strong and active members. »

“I don’t know what’s in the water here,” he added. “But if you could bottle it and you could sell it, we’d make a fortune.”

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