I am a strong advocate of mutual aid, automatic aid, and regional dispatching. I see it as an effective way to create a regional firefighting force capable of coming together in a rapid manner for the common good. I take a bit of flak now and then for championing this approach to fire service delivery and deployment, but that's OK.
What really galls me is that group of people that I am now going to publicly grant a nickname to for the first time. These folks are members of a group of fire service cheapskates that I intend to start calling Mutual Aid Mooches. Think about the concept of what a moocher is. This is the person who sits between two friends in a restaurant and picks a bit of meat off of your plate, and then turns to you other buddy and spears a couple of lima beans. But don't reach for his plate, or he will spear your hand.
The same holds true for those fire chiefs who want mutual aid to run into their town every time they call, but who refuse to send out equipment to standby in another community. They want it all without having to put up a fair share in return. Talk about selfish, they name streets after people like this. You know them, the streets with the arrows that say 'one way'.
A recent message to my web site took me to task for confusing true mutual aid with regional dispatch. This individual went on at length about how mutual aid was only for when there were real fires and real need. He said that he was tired of having people in other departments mooch off of him. I thanked him for his reply, and filed his comments in the appropriate mailbox.
I was going to let this matter lie, because I didn't agree with much of what this person had to say. But it did cause me to think. Let me state my views once again for all to hear. I am a firm believer in automatic aid and regional dispatching for one very simple reason. Fire will not wait for us to respond, decide we need mutual aid, call for help and then fight a holding action until help comes. Fire responds to the tenets of the standard time and temperature curve. If there is more fire than water being put on the fire, you will probably lose the battle. The help will usually arrive too late to be of any real assistance.
That is my position. Having said that, I must add that I detest fire service cheapskates. 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. Theirs broke down, and they claimed that they did not have enough money to buy a new one. This was one of those time 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. There 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 to handle their initial attack firefighting requirements until they can muster an appropriately staffed attack team. However, when they are asked if they intend to hire career staff for their firefighting operation, they state that this is not necessary, since they have the people coming in from the next district. Here is where I start to get upset. Here is another example of being a mutual aid mooch.
If I am to be an advocate for an idea, then I would suggest 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.