Do we know how they respond to fire tactically, and what kind of manpower response can they get, are they only able to get one or two trucks out, or can you expect the whole fleet to arrive on location? How many people will be on the rigs, some departments only require a driver in apparatus in order for it to leave, so is there going to be several pieces of apparatus, but only a handful of interior firefighters? Tactically speaking, do their methods change from day time response to an evening or night time response, are they more inclined to use a defensive operation, or will they attempt an interior attack?
Training Together To Build a Rapport
The best way to answer many of these questions is to periodically invite your mutual aid companies to drill together. Lay out your trucks, open the compartments, discuss the SOGs. Swap members and send a few officers to your mutual companies and have several come into your station. Have some of your senior, more experienced officers in the department lead the instruction and send the newer officers out to the different houses so they can get an idea of what other companies do.
Take your apparatus operators off to the side and have them work with apparatus operators of other companies and get an overview of how the engines and truck work. How often are you going mutual aid with another company with the same exact make and model of apparatus as yours? Very infrequently, since even large paid departments can have different apparatus from company to company, especially in regards to their ladder trucks.
A night during the spring or summer would be a good time to have apparatus operators meet and discuss how their apparatus operates. The general principle of how specific fire apparatus works is the same across the board (engines pump water, trucks bring a big ladder and elevation, rescues bring specialized equipment, etc.). However, the way that they function, where equipment is stored and how to make them work, differs from each individual design and maker, and in some cases mutual aid apparatus may be from decades earlier, creating an issue of how it works in regards to operations. Make sure operators learn essential functions of the specific units, and also make sure they are taught any quirks the vehicles have (sometimes you need to press a button twice, or delay an extra second, or open one valve first to compensate for pressure from another).
These small items can help build that bond of firefighting. New firefighter meet and greets make things a little more personal, and makes the mutual aid departments feel more human than an abstract idea. On top of the bonding, incident operations can run more smoothly if all the working parts have a better understanding of one another. Incoming mutual aid companies can pre-plan their attack coordination better with your operation if they have an idea of what to expect of their orders prior to arrival. This can prove vital at an incident when mutual aid is called in, saving a life or a building.
SEAN WILKINSON is a captain and drill instructor with the Snyder Fire Department in Amherst, NY. He is a police dispatcher for the Town of Amherst Police and is the manager of an Urgent Care Center. He has a Bachelors of Arts in History from the University at Buffalo, and is currently completing the requirements for his Masters in Secondary Education at the University at Buffalo.