In my previous article concerning mutual aid training, the focus was on the establishment of agreements between departments. In addition to issues such as equipment compatibility, the people who are expected to bring it all together when the alarm comes into the station. In this article, we will explore the human aspect of emergency incidents involving mutual aid companies.
Since beginning my fire service career, the two organizations in which I have been associated with have been involved with mutual aid agreements. However, as a training officer, upon instructing classes and integrating the concept of utilization of mutual aid companies, some interesting questions have been asked:
- Who are these people?
- What training do they have?
- Do they really know what they are doing?
- Can we trust them?
- Do we have to take orders from their chief's and officer's?
- Why can't our chief's just go in and take over since we're going to be there?
To some, these comments may seem like the usual questions asked by some within the team, or even arrogance among some team members. However, there are some legitimate concerns here. Remember that when firefighters are called upon to perform at an emergency incident scene with mutual aid firefighters, their safety depends upon the performance of all involved. In my opinion, the firefighters do have a legitimate concern. How to address the issue of the training levels of the mutual aid firefighters:
- Have the companies send over a copy of the years of experience each firefighter has in service. Experience is a wonderful thing right? But how do we know whether the twenty-year veteran firefighter has twenty-years of positive experience in which they have gained training, education, and continued to develop themselves. Or did the twenty-year veteran learn everything he/she needed to know within the first year of service, and continues to apply this one-year of training and experience over a twenty-year period?
Mutual aid training, in addition to addressing equipment and procedures, should also focus upon building trust among the firefighter's who must function as a team at an emergency scene. The leadership of the organization should fully understand the human aspects of bringing in mutual aid companies. The importance of having the firefighter's being confident of the individual working along side them, regardless of the department patch they are wearing upon their sleeve, or whether they are career or non-paid professional firefighters.