Let me remind you that I once took a fire department in New Jersey to task for attempting to get by with the continual help of a mutual aid aerial ladder company from a neighboring community. Theirs broke down, and they claimed that they did not have enough money to buy a new one. This was one of those times when my love of automatic mutual aid and regional dispatch ran head on into my disdain for moochy people. And this department was a classic example of what I now prefer to call mutual aid mooches.
I can think of another case involving an all-volunteer fire department. They are active participants in a regional mutual aid and dispatch consortium. They are most comfortable with using the four career people who respond with a pumper on automatic aid from a neighboring community to handle their initial attack firefighting requirements until they can muster an appropriately staffed volunteer attack team.
However, when they were asked if they ever intended to hire career staff for their firefighting operation, they replied that this was not necessary, since they have the people coming in from the next district. What a load of horse manure. Here is where I start to get upset. This is a classic example of someone being a mutual aid mooch.
In those situations where I am asked to be an advocate for a concept, let me once again reply that it is critical for me to be specific about what I consider to be the acceptable parameters to be for the delivery of these services. I believe that the parties to a mutual aid agreement have to operate according to a share and share alike operational approach. If my department is going to send you a fully staffed pumper when you need one, then you should be prepared to send an aerial ladder my way when I need it.
It is tough to be out ahead of the learning curve. Many of you will recall that I was an early proponent of the shared services and department consolidation movement. I wrote on this back in the early to mid-1990's. I was roundly condemned for my efforts to bring groups together. I was really smacked for my efforts to create a county fire department in a particular urban area of New Jersey. Now the various communities are clamoring for something that I recommended nearly 20 years ago.
What I am not saying is also very important. I am not saying that everyone has to have all of the toys. A true area-wide operation involves the assembly of an alarm assignment using the resources from the region. It is essential for those who are involved in planning for regional operation to sit down around a large meeting room table and decide what they intend to do, who is to perform what functions, and how the operation is to work.
All of the players must then reduce this agreement to writing. This is critical, because it is amazing to see how often the words we write are not the words we think or say. Once the written document has been approved, it should be reproduced and given to all of the parties to the agreement.
Then comes the critical phase for this type of operation: It must be implemented and used on a continuing basis. There should be provisions for regular meetings of all signatories to the agreement. And drills among the participants should occur on a periodic basis. Fire departments work much better together when they are familiar with the manner in which their neighbors work.
I am not saying that this is an easy procedure. Those kind people who have shared their regional success stories with me have each indicated that there was an initial period of many meetings and discussions. There were some serious disputes. But the people at the meeting tables were able to put aside their individual interests in favor of a better level of service to a given region.
Once their plans were created, they were reduced to writing so that everyone could digest the words. There was a period of further discuss. And lastly, there was a period of adjustment. Many times adjustments have to be made to assure a smooth transition.
Let me once again remind you that what I am recommending is pure change of the first rank. You must be prepared for this and understand it. Let me suggest that the initial resistance to change will have to be met with patience, eloquence, and perseverance. The result of the collective labors of many is a living breathing document that changes when the need arises, but remains as a solid guide for continued operations.