On February 26, 1980 the Village of Ashwaubenon board of Trustees established the now present Ashwaubenon Department of Public Safety. Prior to the establishment of the department, fire services to the community were provided by a volunteer fire company organized in 1942 with 10 charter members and a 500 gallon pumper. The "Brickyard Garage" served as a firehouse with meetings held at Chief Ray Hocker's home. In 1955 the department found a permanent home on the corner of Cormier and Ashland Avenue with 18 members and an annual budget of $1,369.03 with just $5.25 spent on fuel and oil.
In 1970 an increase in population in the town brought the need for a second station located at 1310 Ponderosa and additional firefighters were added bringing the total number of firefighters to 34.
Many of these dedicated firefighters now belong to the Retired Ashwaubenon Fire Company 213. The organization's volunteer services provide equipment and support the needs of our community to this day.
Police services to the Village prior to the establishment of the Department of Public Safety were provided by Brown County Sheriff's Department. The town Constable handled ordinance violations.
With an increase in traffic and requests for services, town leaders saw the need for a designated officer to serve the village 24 hours a day. In February 1967 Ashwaubenon and Brown County entered into a contact for one year of protection. By 1977, the contract was increased to two officers. This arrangement with Brown County was terminated in August of 1981 after the Department of Public Safety had successfully completed its first year.
In 1973 five Ashwaubenon citizens concerned for the lack of adequate emergency medical services decided to incorporate a unit that would service the Town of Ashwaubenon exclusively. By 1974 the rescue squad was made up of 14 members. The squad continued to grow in the seventies expanding to 29 members by 1977. These volunteers would schedule their hours around their normal employment hours, responding from their homes with the ambulance and picking up a crew on the way to a call.
Funding for the squad was based on donations until 1974 when the squad was recognized by the Town of Ashwaubenon as a department and allocated $926,127 toward operating expenses. In 1977 three fulltime Emergency Medical Technicians were hired, John Konopacki, Pat McKeever, and Steve Cox. The squads were housed in what is now Station No. 2 on Ponderosa Avenue. In 1978 the Village of Ashwaubenon granted permission for six members of the Rescue Squad to attend paramedics training forming the first State of Wisconsin certified paramedics.
In 1979 the now "Village of Ashwaubenon", seeing similarities of both their fire and rescue departments voted to merge the two agencies into one Fire/Rescue Department.
Once fire and rescue were merged it seemed a natural progression to look into the possibility of creating a Public Safety Department. By 1979 there was growing support for Ashwaubenon to form its own police department and a visit to several suburban Public Safety Departments impressed the village leaders enough to begin exploring the possibility of forming one in the village.
The idea did not come without critics. When questioned how one officer could sufficiently do the job of three Chief Konopacki countered back humorously, "If you have a butcher in a packing plant who is also a volunteer fireman, he has to be proficient at both jobs." After nearly six months of study the village board voted unanimously on February 26, 1980 to implement a Public Safety Department. On August 4, 1980 the first 24 hour tour of duty began for the Ashwaubenon Department of Public Safety.
Brown County Sheriff continued to provide support for Ashwaubenon under their contract until August of 1981 when the Public Safety Department could stand "On Our Own" complete with dispatch center, equipment, and 22 full time Public Safety Officers.
As the Village of Ashwaubenon grew the department managed to keep pace, expanding manpower by 1990 to 30 sworn officers. This number included the expansion of our investigative unit to three investigators. Our dispatch center included a compliment of six telecommunicators with one supervisor whose additional duties were that of court clerk. Originally the department started out with two 1980 Chevy Malibu patrol squads and presently has a fleet of 10 patrol vehicles. The department did not just grow in manpower and equipment; many community orientated programs were developed for Ashwaubenon residents including:
Neighborhood Watch Groups & Programs
Operation Child I.D.
The Green Bay Packer Football Card Collection
Fire Prevention Programs
Adopt a School
Annual Bicycle Safety Rodeo and Elementary Education Program
Kids on Kids
Ashwaubenon Public Safety Benevolent Organization
The 1990's brought continued growth and changes to the department. In 1995 Public Safety moved into a new modern facility on Holmgren Way and added a School Liaison Officer to the staff, and honored the retirement of one of the department's original officers, Pat McKeever, who retired in 1998.
The year 2000 started with a change at the top. Director John M. Konopacki, the first agency head, retired in January ending 26 years of service to the community and after having successfully formed the new department.
The new century brought in Director of Public Safety, Gary L. Wieczorek. Director Wieczorek started on January 24, 2000 as the department's second director. He brought to the department 25 years of police, fire, and paramedic experience having retired from suburban Chicago departments and most recently working in the Milwaukee metropolitan area. It was a time of learning and adapting for both the department and the new director.
The department immediately faced the major issue of whether or not to join the consolidated police and fire communication centers under Brown County. There was much public debate and pressure on the village to merge the Public Safety Communications Center, but with the recommendation of department supervisors, the Village board stood fast and maintained our own communications center. Since then the communications center has been funded and expanded. In the fall of 2001, new communication consoles were installed, and in the spring of 2002, computer aided dispatch software was installed, mirroring the county's communications center. Additional tele-communicators have been added, and in 2005 Diane Hayes was promoted to Information Manager, a position that oversees the communications and records functions of the department.
Retirements of some of the original Public Safety Officers and the rapid growth of the village has brought many personnel changes. With the retirement of John Konopacki in 2000 and Steve Cox in 2001, the original last of the three Public Safety Officers had left the department. Steve Cox came back in a part-time capacity as a community service specialist. He primarily oversees evidence and property control. New officers were hired to replace these pillars of the department along with the creation of six new positions that have been approved by the Village Board during these five years. The department was fortunate to have received a $531,000 federal COPS homeland security grant to fund three of these positions in 2003. The department has grown to 48 sworn officers, including supervisors. Starting in 2004, the department developed a career development path for the officers, starting with a PSOI and a probationary officer that works a police night patrol shift. Night shift officers help free up the shift officers for high call volume during the day. The night shift officers also serve as a necessity for increased fire and rescue calls during the 24 hour shift. A PSOII works one of the three 24 hour shifts and is an officer that is certified in all three fields: police, fire, and EMT. The final step is a PSOIII, an officer certified in all fields along with being a paramedic.
When the new director came, it was established that a new supervisory structure was necessary due to the growth of the department and demands of the public safety functions. The rank of captain was replaced with commander which is an exempt rank not subject to police and fire commission appointment. There are three shift commanders selected along with the commander of support services, Jim Skorczewski. He oversees various department programs plans all special events, and assists the director in administrative matters. A senior commander, Jim Molloy, was selected as second in command of the department and oversees the investigators and liaison officers. There were three additional lieutenants appointed, bringing the total to six. On each shift there is a commander and two lieutenants, which provide a supervisor for police and fire incidents around the clock.
The growth of Ashwaubenon continues to provide many challenges for the public safety department. Since 2000, the department experienced commercial development in the village starting with the expansion of Bay Park Square Mall which attracts over seven million customers a year. With the commercial growth came new entertainment facilities. The remodeled Lambeau Field has increased parking and traffic in the village. The department now provides about 25 officers for every home game. The addition of the Resch Center brings in big name concerts like Cher, Metallica, Tim McGraw and the Trans Siberian Orchestra that can easily draw 10,000 spectators and the department is responsible for providing police, EMS, and fire inspectors at every event.
Major incidents allowed the department to demonstrate how well the public safety concept can work. This started in April, 2001 when after take-off, a corporate jet flew into a large cold storage warehouse, destroying the building along with causing critical injuries to seven workers. The only person to die in the crash was the pilot who was alone in the jet. The department was on scene for over 30 hours handling the fires, chemical leaks, and assisting the NTSB with the investigation.
September 11, 2001 provided additional concerns for the Public Safety Department. The first Monday Night Football game was played at Lambeau Field after games were cancelled by the NFL. Working with the Green Bay Police Department and Brown County Sheriff's Department, the highest level of security was provided during this game that was in the national spotlight.
During these five years, there have also been two homicides involving infants. Arrests were made shortly in both cases, in part due to quick identification of the injuries by public safety officers on the rescue squads. In 2004, the village became a primary presidential campaign stop. Nine campaign visits included two rallies by President Bush and two overnight stops by Senator John Kerry, the Democratic Presidential candidate. These major stops required all members of the department to work security, medical, and fire details.
Technology and new equipment have been added to the department in the past five years. A small four-wheel-drive compressed foam fire truck was purchased in 2001, which patrols before and after each Packer game. Also in 2001, a large squad truck replaced an older converted delivery truck. The vehicle serves as a mobile command post and carries advanced rescue equipment. The department obtained two ATVs at no cost which are used to patrol Packer games and special events around the Resch Center and Brown County Arena complex. Through homeland security grants and private donations, the department has received over $250,000 in funding for new self-contained breathing apparatus, three sets of specialized vehicle extrication tools, surveillance items, computerized finger printing system, and other rescue equipment.
Improved computer systems and software have been obtained to assist in the efficiency of the department along with staying current with modern technology. Some of these improvements are computerized dispatching and records programs, including automatic vehicle locator system, fire/EMS reporting software, and automated personnel accountability system for major incidents.
The department has been fortunate to have great citizen support and is open to inviting the community to participate in many programs. This is best demonstrated by the Citizen Academy program and the Volunteers in Policing (VIPs). The department was the first in the nation to have an Advanced Citizen Academy program where past graduates of the initial citizen academies are invited back for a six week refresher to learn about changes in the department. The Citizen Academy alumni continue to grow and provide support to the department by organizing fund raisers for needed equipment and assisting at many special events such as parades, marathons, and the Presidential campaign visits.
The department's Explorers are now assisting in the department's newest program providing life safety key boxes for residents of the village that my be unable to open their door in the case of an emergency. The Explorers go to the resident's homes and install the key box and answer any questions. Finally, the department continues to have an active Neighborhood Watch program with over 30 neighborhoods participating.
As the Village grows and develops, Public Safety continues to grow. New positions added include a dedicated traffic officer and a full-time community service specialist. We are continuing with the planning and designing of an additional public safety station and training center in the growing southwest section of the village. We are exploring ways to become accessible to the growing business community so as to be pro-active in maintaining a safe community for the many residents and visitors that shop, work, and seek entertainment in Ashwaubenon.