DELAFIELD, Wis. - Two Waukesha County fire departments, as of Jan. 1, merged into a third.
At the start of the year, the Town of Delafield Fire Department and the Wales Genesse Fire Department merged into Lake Country Fire & Rescue -- a realization that is bittersweet, though it has been a possibility for years.
At 11:59 p.m. on New Year's Eve, the two western Waukesha County fire departments -- with nearly 100 years of service or more -- received their final tone out as independent agencies.
"It’s bittersweet. But in the end, we know there’s a bigger part of a program that we’re a partnership in and it’s working well, so far," said Mark Hoppe, Lake Country Fire & Rescue assistant chief.
Former Wales Genesee Chief Jim Moon started with the Village of Wales Fire Department 40 years ago.
"When I started, we still rode the back steps of the trucks," Moon said.
Hoppe joined the Town of Delafield Fire Department in 1985. He started out as a high school cadet, eventually moving up to interim chief.
Moon and Hoppe both now serve as assistant chiefs with Lake Country Fire & Rescue. The respective names of the Delafield and Wales Genessee departments will stay on the trucks and patches on arms.
Lake Country Chief Matt Fennig said, despite the departments working together for years, planning months before the merger was finalized in September helped smooth the switchover.
"By all accords, Jan. 1 was a successful launch. We’ve already seen a decrease in response times to our citizens, just on day one," said Fennig.
The merger was driven in part by cost savings -- roughly $120,000 over seven communities. Dwindling numbers of people coming through the doors in the ever-changing fire service drove the change, too -- with upwards of 80% of calls being medical-related.
"You either change, or you get left behind," Moon said.
Only a handful, or so, of people did not stay on the Lake Country Fire & Rescue roster, which now numbers 100; 25 full-time and the rest part-time and paid on-call.
Thirteen people will be on duty, including paramedics, at each station 24/7. While goodbyes are hard, they say their dedication isn't going anywhere.