Can Mutual Aid Help You?

William Shouldis reviews calling for an extra alarm or mutual aid as the only option in many escalating situations.


Every community, large or small, has the likelihood of an overwhelming emergency event and often these incidents can transcend political jurisdictional boundaries. Responding to major events and reliance on outside assistance is rising. Personnel safety and operational efficiency is the priority...


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Pre-incident preparations will reduce frustration and greatly increase productivity when the overall safety of responders and citizens are in jeopardy. A major advantage of EMAC is the straightforward approach to mitigation. In today’s world of economic impact, it is important that fire service leaders are aware of all viable alternatives. EMAC can produce the type of help needed, under the most adverse conditions, to satisfactorily fulfill the public-safety mission. Using mutual aid during a prolonged crisis or on-going consequence phase demonstrates good judgment. There are many common-sense lessons from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Make sure that you have a plan to promptly initiate intrastate and interstate support.

In the simplest of terms, EMAC works because standard procedures have removed all the guesswork. All catastrophic incidents start at the local level and have a cascading effect. By keeping an accurate list of designated contacts in your firehouse, dispatch center or emergency operation center (EOC), your department can make a smooth transition from response to recovery to rebuilding.

Mistakes can be costly and front-line responders have only one opportunity to make a positive difference. In the aftermath of any type of incident, there is a fine line between community criticism and public praise. A lesson identified is not a lesson learned until effectively addressed.


William Shouldis is a deputy chief with more than 33 years of service with the Philadelphia Fire Department. He is currently assigned to the downtown high-rise district. Previously, Shouldis was the director of training and department’s safety officer. He is an adjunct instructor at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD, and has a master’s degree in public safety.