The Mutual Aid Mooch Revisited: Lawrence, Massachusetts

As I was reading a recent piece on the layoffs in Lawrence, MA, my mind began to travel back in time. The mayor and politicians in this old mill community were looking to their neighbors to subsidize the cost of their fire protection...

When I asked for comments on this topic back in 2000, many were the examples forwarded to my office by mutual aid groups around the country. I profited from their willingness to share what they had created with me. We have had a well-defined automatic aid program in place in Howell Township, NJ, for more than 20 years. It allows us to begin sharing resources from the moment that our units are dispatched.

Let me once again tell you what I told you 10 years ago. If you are looking to use automatic aid, mutual aid, and regional dispatching in order to provide fire protection to your community, on the cheap, forget about it. Any group formed on the unequal footing of active versus moochy participant will collapse under the weight of the strain caused by the Mutual Aid Mooch.

I said this a decade ago and I still believe it. The hard part of getting the cheapskate politicians and their political hacks and cronies to understand that there is only way to create an efficient, cost-effective regional fire response. Everyone has to share and share alike. As a fire commissioner, I would never stand for another fire department living off of the largess of my budget.

Let me close with a phrase that I learned a long time ago. There are no free lunches. You have to buy a beer to sit at the buffet. Keep an eye out for those who want to use your money to fund their meal. Frankly it is hard to believe that ten years have passed and that we are no closer to solving this problem as a fire service.

See Harry Carter Live: Harry will be teaching "Fire Department Staffing & Funding" at Firehouse Expo, in Baltimore, on July 24. 

HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, a Contributing Editor, is a municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ. Dr. Carter retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department and is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. Follow Harry on his "A View From my Front Porch" blog. He recently published Leadership: A View from the Trenches and Living My Dream: Dr. Harry Carter's 2006 FIRE Act Road Trip. You can reach Harry by e-mail at