Streetcar to change Milwaukee fire operations

Major changes underway downtown will soon have Milwaukee's controversial streetcar up-and-running. The TODAY'S TMJ4 I-Team found out the new rail system will also cause changes to Milwaukee's public safety plans.

Milwaukee's public safety officials will have to learn an entirely new system with tracks, the cars and dangerous electric wires. The streetcar will also require the public to learn a few new things.

"This is new infrastructure in the public way," explained City Engineer Jeff Polenske. With that comes a learning curve.

"We've got to be able to readily deliver whatever we have available to anyone that's in need in this city," said Deputy Chief Aaron Lipski of the Milwaukee Fire Department. In some places, Lipski tells the I-Team the streetcar will make that more difficult.

"If we can't raise the aerial ladder up, no, we can't get to that floor," he said. They're problems Lipski and other members of the streetcar project have to address now to make sure the route is safe in 2018, when it's scheduled to start running.

"It's another environmental factor for us that we'll either work around or we'll adapt and find a different way to accomplish what we need to accomplish up there," Lipski said.

One thing the team already knows, the Fire Department will be able to shut off voltage in certain sections of the City if they need to work there.

"There's endless examples of this around the country," Polenske said. He and other planners have turned to other cities to learn how to make this work. One example, Detroit's QLine streetcar, which started running in May. We reached out to Paul Childs, the Chief Operating Officer.

"We can't turn a corner and get out of their way, but we can get out of their way," explained Childs of how the QLine interacts with emergency responders. He said they've focused on coordination and training.

"All we did was bring our processes and hook those in and make it part of the normal information," he said.

The QLine dispatch communicates with emergency responders, but everyone has had to learn to work with the new system. The City of Detroit requires training and a permit for anybody doing work near the streetcar.

"All of the construction activities, the window washers, the people that put up signs, the people that change light bulbs all those kinds of things," Childs said.

In Milwaukee, the City already has a permitting process for the public right-of-way, which will extend to work surrounding the streetcar.

Childs said they've had discussions with delivery drivers and the Post Office about sharing the road, too. Once Milwaukee selects an operator to run the streetcar, the City intends to do a public education campaign, as well.

For now, the Fire Department is prepared to ensure everyone stays safe.

"Hey, listen, I have a job because all these things add up together. We'll sort it out, we're going to have to," Lipski said.

We did request a safety plan from the City, but it isn't fully developed yet.

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