The Ottawa Fire Department has a new fire chief in former Deputy Chief Brian Bressner and a new Deputy Chief in Mike Mills, and they’re aligned in their goal to move the department forward.
Bressner said he and Mills want to focus on recruitment and retention: The Ottawa Fire Department is operating with 21 firefighters when it should have 27.
“Our biggest thing is to get young, local kids involved in the fire service and get them hired here in Ottawa,” Bressner said. “That’s step number one. We have to get back up to the staffing levels where we’ve been before.”
Bressner said the next step is to seek additional staffing to get the station running more efficiently, and Mills agreed.
“Our responsibilities are going up as our call volumes go up, so just sitting at the status quo won’t cut it anymore,” Mills said. “So being able to, you know, make some updates and grow naturally with our responsibilities and our call volume is going to be critical here in the next few years.”
Bressner said the department received 2,500 calls when he was hired in 2007 and that volume has increased to 4,154 in 2021.
He plans to communicate to the City Council as clearly as he can, including building another fire station.
“I’m going to come hard with the reasons why we need station three and more staffing,” Bressner said. “Our call volumes keep increasing every year.”
Bressner said items can be addressed once more firefighters come aboard, and he’s working on organizing data and presentations to show the City Council where the department is at and where it needs to go.
“We’re undermanned and understaffed but the guys care, and they’re still there giving it 100% every single day on every single call,” Bressner said. “It’s not changing how we do our day-to-day tasks and operations.”
Mills said, in the meantime, though the department might be understaffed, there’s a lot of pride that comes with what they do.
“It’s been this way since before I started here and it’ll be this way now: We handle every emergency,” Mills said. “We’re not just a fire department and a paramedic service. We handle the water, rivers, tornadoes and I just want people to understand how wide of a net our training casts. Our skillset shows that even a smaller community like Ottawa can be an example to the rest of the county.”
Mayor Dan Aussem said Bressner and Mills were impressive candidates aided by the pipeline within the Ottawa Fire Department.
“I was impressed,” Aussem said. “They’re younger guys and Brian’s much more adept at using the computer systems. When COVID-19 came around, he was our lead person looking for grants available for ambulances, calls and medical emergencies, especially with those related to COVID-19.”
Aussem said when former Chief Andy Burkowski announced his retirement, the council was comfortable Bressner had learned enough to take over the role.