Wausau Fire Department advances under new leadership

July 5, 2024

Leadership change at Wausau Fire Department

The Wausau Fire Department is undergoing notable changes under the leadership of its new Fire Chief, Jeremy Kopp.

With nearly three decades of experience in firefighting, Chief Kopp has been dedicated to the profession since he was 18 years old.

He stepped into his new role in December and has plans to modernize the department while maintaining service quality within budget constraints, as reported by Peter Cameron for Wausau Pilot and Review.

Chief Kopp, who has served in various roles including firefighter inspector, lieutenant inspector, and battalion chief since joining the department in 2004, is focused on addressing several challenges.

“This is one of those professions where you don’t get in it to get rich, you get in it to serve your community,” said Chief Kopp.

“It’s a very rewarding career. You see a lot of bad things, but you make a lot of difference in people’s lives.”

Addressing staffing challenges

One of the main issues Chief Kopp aims to tackle is the shrinking pool of qualified firefighting candidates.

Currently, the department employs 60 out of the 66 budgeted positions, with two new hires starting in July.

Despite budgeting for more staff, the city spent nearly $390,000 on overtime in 2023 due to staffing shortages.

To combat this, Kopp is collaborating with Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Gov. Tony Evers, and Northcentral Technical College to establish a federally funded apprenticeship program.

This program is designed to attract young talent to the firefighting profession by allowing trainees to work while earning necessary certifications, with training costs covered by the department.

Improving fire protection and training

Chief Kopp is also focused on improving the city’s fire protection insurance rating through the Public Protection Classification program.

Achieving the top rating could lower insurance rates for property owners across Wausau.

Additionally, the department plans to establish a dedicated training center for firefighters in the city or Marathon County.

This center will enhance both new recruit training and ongoing education for veteran firefighters.

Introducing a critical care paramedic role

Another innovative part of Kopp’s plan is the introduction of a full-time critical care paramedic role.

This position will assist frequent 911 system users, particularly the elderly, homeless, and those with mental health issues.

The goal is to reduce emergency calls and costs by proactively addressing common issues such as fall hazards in homes.

“I think it’s an opportunity to change healthcare,” Kopp stated. “We’re going to see what this position can do.”

The funding for this position has been largely secured from the Aspirus Health System and The Judd S. Alexander Foundation, with efforts ongoing to obtain additional support.

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