Oct. 05--Residents along the borders of Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Chesapeake could soon be seeing unfamiliar fire engines on their streets.
Those cities are working on an automatic-aid agreement among their fire departments. That means the closest available firefighters would respond to an emergency, regardless of which city it was in.
For instance, a Chesapeake engine could be the first to arrive at a Virginia Beach fire.
"If you take a map and pull the city boundaries off, that is what we're going to do," Chesapeake Fire Chief Edmund Elliott said.
Currently, the cities have a mutual-aid agreement, which means firefighters respond to another city's emergency only when requested.
Elliott said the goal is to have automatic aid in place by spring, although T.J. McAndrews, deputy chief for the Virginia Beach Fire Department, said it might take longer. Technology is the biggest hang-up, since communications systems must match up and it's expensive to upgrade every system needed.
Cities that work under automatic aid say it has many benefits.
David Rohr, chief of the Fairfax Fire Department, said it reduces response times and costs.
Rohr also chairs the NOVA Fire Chiefs Committee. Talk of automatic-aid agreements started there in 1982, after a jet airliner crashed into the Potomac River in Washington, killing almost all its passengers and crew.
"We really look at it as we are almost one regional fire department," he said.
Hampton and Newport News also are exploring automatic aid.
Hampton already has an automatic-aid agreement with Joint Base Langley-Eustis. That agreement has worked well, said Capt. Jeff Pereira, a Hampton Fire Department spokesman.
"It is a big relief when you get help from other departments," he said.
Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Norfolk have discussed automatic aid for several years. In the past, cost was a prohibitive factor.
The switch has become more of a priority, though. He noted that often blazes require responses from several engines, making it advantageous to be able to call other cities for help.
Elliott brushes off suggestions that residents of one city should not be paying to fight other cities' fires. He also doesn't think any resident would be uncomfortable getting help from an out-of-town engine.
"If it's your house on fire," he said, "you're just going to want whoever is closest."
Mike Connors, 757-222-5217, firstname.lastname@example.org
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