Weston votes to terminate SAFER contract

SAFER Fire building

B.C. Kowalski

SAFER Fire building

The SAFER Fire District building in Rib Mountain.

Weston could be getting its fire and ambulance services from somewhere else starting in 2022. 

The Weston Village Board on Monday voted to end its contract with South Area Fire and Emergency Response District, otherwise known as SAFER. Because the contract requires nine months notice within a calendar year, the termination would not be effective until 2022. 

Village President Wally Sparks told the board the issues with SAFER has been going on for years, and he and board member Mark Maloney have been trying for a year to address those issues on the board with little success. 

City Pages revealed earlier this year that SAFER leaders had been told by an attorney that they had mishandled an investigation into allegations against its fire chief and SAFER leadership.

Sparks says district leadership has been operating in a deficit every year since its inception until he and Maloney finally put a stop to it, and that requests for updated financials at meetings by board members go unfulfilled. “I don’t think we have been treated as partners in this since its inception,” Sparks says. “The accountability is not where it needs to be.”

Board member Barb Ermeling told the board she had had similar troubles with SAFER when she was president, and it was part of the reason she didn’t seek out another term as president. “I had had enough of SAFER,” Ermeling says. 

The termination means the village could either renegotiate its contract with SAFER, with some of the changes the board seeks, or it could partner with another entity, such as the Riverside Fire District, Rothschild and Schofield’s joint district.

Maloney told the board he’d been scolded on the phone by another board member for Sparks questioning contract financials in open session at a recent meeting. “I was told to reign him in, or you will be gone,” Maloney told the board. 

Board member Nate Fiene told the board he knows past and current firefighters and EMTs on the SAFER board, and that they’ve described to him a culture of fear, allegations of rampant sexual harassment and allegations of favoritism toward certain employees. “Up until recently there has been a crisis of confidence in the rank and file toward SAFER leadership,” Fiene says. 

Wausau leaders recently expressed interest in potentially partnering with Rib Mountain following Weston leaving the district. Weston leaders also told City Pages they’re open to partnering with municipalities for fire service as long as it is equitable.