West Allis - As a 16-year-old boy made news recently for being alive and well after his heart stopped at a basketball game at West Allis Central High School, retiring Fire Chief Steve Bane was thinking how his life had come full circle.
Years ago as a firefighter, he and fellow firefighter Bruce Stanwood relentlessly worked to put defibrillators, one of which saved the boy's life, into every school and city building.
"It was an exciting and rewarding moment" to see that young man leave Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, Bane said. The hidden heart condition the boy has strikes young athletes like him out of nowhere with nearly always fatal results.
"They don't survive that very often," Bane said. And he and Stanwood were the sparks that galvanized the community into action that ended with automatic electronic defibrillators being in every school and city building.
Went to PTAs
He and Stanwood went to all the school PTAs to help them raise money for a defibrillator for their school. Dozens of bake sales, ice cream socials and other fundraisers broke out everywhere.
The firefighters and teachers unions were among the first to donate to the cause. Soon the city, the fire department, the schools and others would contribute.
"It's kind of funny how life comes around," with all that effort leading to a boy's life being saved, Bane said.
Another example of life coming around is that Bane will retire 32 years to the day that he started with West Allis as a firefighter. His last official day is today, Jan. 19.
That was back in 1985. In succeeding years, Bane rose through the ranks doing his part fighting off threats to life and property.
He remembers one dramatic rescue in particular of a woman hanging out of a second floor window at 81st Street and National Avenue.while flames raged.
"I grabbed an extension ladder and climbed up to get her," he said casually. like it was no big deal. Happily, he didn't have to carry her down. She was most willing and thankfully able to climb down herself, with Bane helping her along.
Bane was appointed fire chief three years ago. Even though his tenure has been relatively short, it has been active.
Seeing the volume of 911 emergency calls climb drastically and the budget nowhere near able to keep pace, Bane made sure West Allis was part of an innovative mobile integrated health care program that focused on frequent 911 callers. West Allis and other communities trained paramedics to teach people who frequently call 911 how to better manage their health conditions before they escalate into 911 calls. Emphasis of the free, voluntary program is on education, advocacy and help to navigate the health care system, Bane said.
Only recently, the department received a thank-you from one of the people paramedics visited.
"She shared how she can better manage situations where she would have called 911," Bane said. And she isn't the only one doing better on their own. The department has seen a drop in the number of 911 calls for primary care, he said.
"I'm pleased. We've been able to improve the quality of life of people in the community," he said.
Praise for Bane and the program also came from Don Nehmer, chairman of the police and fire commission that appointed Bane chief.
"It's a more efficient approach to patient care," he said. "Paramedics make home visits to be sure people are taking their medicines and are doing the little things to avoid 911 calls," he said.
Another way Bane has striven to deal with limited resources in a world of increasing demands is by beefing up cooperative arrangements with other fire departments. Communities have had mutual aid agreements for many years, but Bane has been greasing the wheels of cooperation. The result has been fire rigs from several communities appearing to battle West Allis fires. The reverse is true, also. In the near future, fire agreements may be signed in which departments that are the closest to an emergency will respond, regardless of whether they are in a different community.
Another critical challenge Bane overcame as chief was having a young command staff, Nehmer pointed out.
"There were a lot of retirements before he took over as chief," Nehmer said. "He got the young command staff up to speed."
Looking back on his 32 years with West Allis, Bane said, "It has been a privilege and an honor to serve the community for more than 30 years, and especially as chief, it has been humbling and rewarding."