Mutual Aid/Automatic Aid for the County

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I would like to add a note to this post. This post is intended to bring attention to the regional cooperation between the fire departments in the Roanoke Valley and possibly show room for improvement. As with anything there is always ways to make things better. Only through experience will the departments involved fully understand the roles and ways of making the responses more effective, safer, and more standard between localities. The main point of this post is to inform the firefighters in Roanoke City of differences in dispatch, response, company make-up, and protocols of other localities. This incident is merely one case that shows differences and the need to IMPROVISE, ADAPT, and OVERCOME. If you have questions or comments leave them below for all to read or email me.
Roanoke County had a house fire yesterday. There is an image and article in the paper today. I could not find it online though so you will have to take my word for it. Roanoke City Engine 13 ran the call as automatic aid with the County. The call was just inside the County line and Station 13 is the closest fire station to the incident. Ladder 13, the other staffed unit at Fire Station 13, was out of service for some reason or another. I do not know all the particulars of the fire. However, I did notice one thing while listening to the fire on TAC 8; it took one hell of a long time for a Ladder truck to mark on scene.

Apparently in the County, since it is a combination career/volunteer department, when a company or apparatus is dispatched they are given somewhere around 4 minutes to mark in route. WHAT?? Yeah that is right. I am not bashing the volunteers, and I understand that they are not at the station all the time. But what happened to the paid guys who staff Ladder 5 at Hollins (the first due ladder truck for this call)? I thought that was part of the deal with the County, we would provide automatic aid and they would staff Ladder 5. Maybe I am wrong.

In the City we run fires and we expect and always receive our compliment of fire apparatus and firefighters on every fire. We know what we are going to get, when it will get there, and what they will be doing once they get there. This is how we work. Once a unit is dispatched it is on its way. If something happens that a company is on a call, out of service, or breaks down enroute to the call then another company is automatically dispatched.

For those of you who do not know the difference; In the city the ladder truck carries ladders, forcible entry tools, ventilation fans, salvage covers, etc. Whereas the engine carries hose, water, etc. In order to do an efficient firefighting operation you need both apparatus as well as certified and competent firefighters.

So why did the crews working at the fire have to wait so long for a ladder truck to mark on scene. I give you some possibilities:
1) Ladder 5 did not have firefighters assigned to it at that time.
2) The volunteers were unable to get a crew to the station quick enough.
3) The paid staff who might staff Ladder 5 were staffing a different apparatus.
4) The closest Ladder was not in service (City Ladder 13).
5) The closest Ladder was not dispatched.
6) The 4 minute time limit for marking a unit in service is unacceptable.
7) If units do not mark enroute immediately then another truck should be dispatched.
8) If an unmanned truck is dispatched, which would have to wait for volunteers to respond to the station to man, then a staffed unit shall be dispatched as well simultaneously.

The bottom line is that if City firefighters are going to respond outside of the City, automatic aid or mutual aid to any locality, they should be given the same tools, apparatus, and firefighters that they are accustom to in the City.

Oh and just for everyone’s information. We need to get the terminology right.

Automatic Aid
“Automatic aid is assistance dispatched automatically by contractual agreement between two communities or fire districts. That differs from mutual aid or assistance arranged case by case. ISO will recognize an automatic-aid plan under the following conditions:
1)It must be prearranged for first-alarm response according to a definite plan. It is preferable to have a written agreement, but ISO may recognize demonstrated performance.
2)The aid must offset a need in the community ISO is surveying. For example, if a community needs a ladder company and the fire department does not have one, but a neighboring community’s ladder company responds by automatic-aid agreement, credit may be available.
3)The aiding ladder company must cover at least 50% of the needed ladder company Standard Response District by hydrant count in the community being graded.”

Mutual Aid

“The main focus of the Mutual Aid System is to make a large number of resources available in a pre-arranged, organized fashion at no additional cost to the town, village or municipality requiring assistance during alarge- scale emergency situation.
Mutual Aid is activated when the fire or emergency is beyond the capability of the responding fire department, or there are more fire calls or emergencies than the local fire department can respond to. For example, if a fire in your community was too large for your local fire department to handle alone, Mutual Aid could be called upon for additional equipment and personnel. The same would apply if a tanker or train carrying dangerous goods was involved in an accident.
Mutual Aid also offers back-up protection. If the local fire department is attending one fire or emergency, this system provides response to any other fire or emergency situation in that town or municipality. All of this additional assistance is provided at no cost to the town or municipality.
The Mutual Aid System is set up under the provisions of Section 264 of The Municipal Act. This Section empowers municipalities to enter into agreements with other municipalities for providing or obtaining fire protection or emergency response assistance. Mutual Aid does not affect or replace this authority.”

So basically automatic aid is that which is preset so that the aiding agency is dispatched with the initial alarm and there is usually a cooperative agreement both ways. Whereas mutual aid is merely the understanding that if one locality has an incident which it cannot handle by itself they can call on another agency for assistance through a prearranged agreement.

The reason why I speak of this incident is that our Firefighters, that is Roanoke City’s Bravest, need to know what to expect and some of the possibilities involved while running mutual aid and automatic aid into other localities. If you have a comment please leave it below.

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