Beware the Mutual Aid Mooch

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...

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. They then must 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. 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.

I would like to thank Mr. Curtis St. John for sharing the Recommended Operational Guidelines for Genesee County Fire Chief's Association, in Michigan. He indicated that the strength of their operations grows out of a mutual understanding of the shared strength of the members of their organization. The first guidelines I reviewed date from the early 1980's. There are a series of updates that fine-tuned the operations over time. These facts reinforce my recommendations regarding the ongoing, evolutionary process of an effective mutual aid operation.

Mr. St. John spoke of the initial resistance to change that had 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. The planners inserted language that allows a community not to respond, if they so choose. Mr. St. John indicated in a recent e-mail that, " my 20 in the fire service I have never know of a department to refuse giving aid in Genesee County. In fact at times aid has been given at the expense of maintaining fire protection in their own jurisdiction. But, that is the beauty of our fire coordination system. It the fire coordinators responsibility to insure that no jurisdiction is without fire protection."

There were many other examples forwarded to my office by mutual aid groups around the country. I shall be mentioning them from time to time, in order to further refine my ideas. The number of detractors has been minimal, and even they have allowed me to think harder and create a tighter focus for my ideas on this critical topic.

So if you are looking to automatic aid, mutual aid, and regional dispatching to arrange for fire protection 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.