Fire Dept's responding to other towns

If I live within a mile of a Fire Station of a neighboring town, will my fire department still be the responding department?

AFAIK, unless the two towns have a reciprocal agreement, your own town’s fire department will be the one to respond.

Reciprocal agreements do happen. My sister is a volunteer fire fighter (just get her Firefighter II certification), and every town in the county (at least the northern half) have reciprocal agreements. This is in a sparsely populated (in the winter) area. No dept has the resources to take on a major fire on thier own, so everyone cooperates.

I’m not sure, but I think reciprocal agreements are not unusual


The term is Mutual Aid, and I’m sure it works out just fine for the thousands of volunteer units in this country. The problem comes in when paid departments share a border with vollys.

There are two aspects of mutual aid plans.

The first one that is most commonly used is called (get this); “mutual aid.” Lets say Department A has a fire thats a tad bit bigger than they can handle on their own. Now they need help from outside departments for at least one, and more likely two things. The first is station coverage. Just because there’s a big fire one place in town doesn’t mean that there aren’t other emergencies in the town to be taken care of, too. So our friendly neighbor Fire Department B will send apparatus to one (or more) of our stations to take care of any other problems that arise.
Well, lo and behold, the fire is still getting out of hand, so we need some more help on scene. Now Department C and/or B will send apparatus to the scene to assist in putting the fire out. These neighboring departments won’t (or shouldn’t) send all of their equipment to A’s fire, since now that leaves B and C unprotected, so everyone sends a little to help.

The key point with this first kind of mutual aid plan is that the originating department has the initial response, and utilizes all of their own resources prior to calling for help.

The second kind of mutual aid is called Automatic Aid. This covers exactly the situation the OP asked about. Lets say we live in Town A, but Fire Department A’s closest station is 2 miles away. Fire Department B is only 1 mile away. With automatic aid, the two departments have gotten together beforehand and worked out an arrangement that if there’s a call somewhere thats closer to Department B, then B will send the trucks. If there’s somewhere closer to A in B-land, then A will send their trucks. Automatic aid is a pretty proactive way of dealing with (and successfully reducing) response times.

The most common use of automatic aid around my part of the world is on highways. Since exits and onramps aren’t always convieniently placed at town lines, there is some overlap of political boundaries where A can get somewhere a lot faster than B, and vice versa, so towns will share responsibilities for covering their respective directions.

As for the paid vs volunteer debate, thats more of a Pit topic than GQ, if you ask me.

At least a couple of municipalities here in the Vancouver area have an arrangement like KCB615’s second type. Coquitlam is horseshoe-shaped with Port Coquitlam inside it. Coquitlam’s west end is pretty solidly built up and has all their fire stations, while the east is rural. Calls from the rural end are automatically answered first by the PoCo department.

According to a couple of PoCo firemen I knew while I lived there, all the municipalities in the area had mutual assistance agreements.

Every dept in our county is part of the County Fire Assn. They each pay $1 per year to join and can then call out any help needed from any other member department. All the townships, ten or twelve, plus the 1/2 paid 1/2 vol department in a smaller town, plus the all paid dept from the City of 70,000 are members. The unionized City doesn’t call often but actually does call once in a great while. Whoever has the land where the call comes from responds first if possible, but other departments can and do get called in as needed. Lives and property come first around here and politics second (barely).

Years ago, when I was a volunteer in a rural fire district, we had mutual aid agreements all over the county. Our district surrounded an incorporated city with a large tourist trade. We had EMT’s and an aid car, they had ambulances and paramedics. They had several huge condominium and motel buildings.

Their paramedics responded to almost any medical aid situation in our district (as well as two neighboring districts). Our people would get there first, but the parmedics could supply all sorts of advanced aid we couldn’t.

Their fire equipment was sufficient to deal with almost anything in their town, except for a motel or condo fire. In that case, half the trucks from the 3 rural districts would come help out.

All in all, it wasn’t a very balanced relationship, but it was a great way to keep everyone safe while not having to have paid paramedics and fire fighters in the sparsely-populated part of the area.

slight hijack, but my sister is paid when on duty, so volunteer is perhaps not the best term. full time vs part time may be more accurate.


For the OP, the best place to find out about your own community’s running order is

They have the listing of all of the Metro Fire Departments (greater Boston area, one of the 14 districts the commonwealth is broken into), and who goes where for what. Click on “Departments” and then “Lexington” to find out everything you never wanted to know about mutual aid.

In Lexington’s case, Waltham and Arlington cover stations on a first alarm, and outside help (Belmont, Concord, and Woburn) goes to the fire on the third and higher.

Brian; The term (once again, around here) for your sister is a “call firefighter.” Volunteer is unpaid, call is paid for each run, and paid is paid to be on duty.

IIRC in CA, areas that are not covered by full time firefighters often fall into “State responsibility areas” covered by local forestry oriented departments like US Forest Service and Califonia Dept of Forestry firefighting units. In the big picture local fire coverage is mainly a matter of better fire covereage = bigger buildings = bigger businesses = more taxes. Thats kinda oversimplified If it needs to be pitted, go for it, if not I am curious what the specifics of the conflict are.

Way back when, the fire insurance rates in my home town were conditioned upon there being a fire department ready at all times. As a result, our volunteer department would not respond to fires outside the city limits. Except maybe to protect property inside the city if the fire, say, were in a building outside that abutted one inside. But they wouldn’t go outside to save that bulding. By the way, we had only one fire station and **one **engine. No ladder truck, medical emergency vehicle or any of that stuff.

I think, now, that the department has changed to either a country run affair or has changed its policy with the addition of more equipment.

As I understand it that is still the case, I’m sure someone can give a batter answer but in a nutshell better equipped and staffed departments give lower fire insurance rates.

Paying for firefighting assistance gets messy and is probably part of the pit thread issue above. IIRC generally jurisdictions without “full service” fire departments are charged by the city/county providing assistance. The amount and details thereof are subject to mutual aid agrements.

My understanding of the details is limited but once again IIRC. CA office of emergency services provides firefighting support on a flat rate basis to any area in the event of emergency. OES pays OES provides free apparatus to the dept who in turn is required to staff it and send it where needed in the event of a major disaster (like the Loma Prieta Earthquake 1990?)

Fire Insurance rates are determined by a company called Insurance Services Office, or ISO. They generally drop in to each department in the country once every ten or so years and go through equipment, staffing, communications, and the water supply to give that department (and thus those who live within its protection) a rating from 1 to 10, with 1 being the best, 10 being “no organized fire protection.” Believe it or not, most departments in the nation are a 9, they have the bare minimums required to have “organized fire protection,” but lack whatever it is they need to make it up the ladder. Most firefighters (including myself) have a beef with ISO, they use an arcane and somewhat arbitrary system for coming up with the ratings. Also, the folks who come and rate the departments are usually accountants. Now, I don’t have any problem with accountants, but I question their ability to tell me what good fire protection is. After all, I don’t tell them how to add and subtract…

For a bit on ISO:

[slight hijack] The problem that I referred to above with the paid vs volunteer debate is a disagreement thats pretty much nationwide in the fire service. The paid firefighters shout “the volunteers are taking away jobs” and “they’re not trained,” amongst other things. The volunteers shout back that the communites they protect (usually) can’t fiscally provide or justify a career department, and that they are trained. It goes deeper than that, and with all sorts of little side tracks that confuses things further. Makes the Middle East look like a schoolyard tiff.

My take on it: it depends on who and where you are. I got my start as a volunteer firefighter and got on a paid department. I still belong to and fight fires with that volunteer department, and I’m more comfortable on a fireground there than I would be at 90% of the paid departments around me (let me add that I’m very comfortable at my paying job). Not that the other paid departments are bad, the vast majority are great. However, having seen both sides of the fence, my volunteer department is one of the best trained and equipped departments you’ll find around here. I also know that the town pays $400,000 for the 120 member volunteer department, and we would pay $2.2 million for a bare-bones 24 member paid department. As a municipal administrator, which would you pick?

But, I will also conceed that there are volunteer departments that I wouldn’t want anywhere near an emergency scene. There are also paid departments I feel the same way about. It all depends on where you are and who you’re dealing with. But, since the fire service prides ourselves in the “250 years of tradition unhampered by progress” motto, the argument is going to go on for a long, long time.
[/slight hijack]


I worked for a 350 member IAFF affiliated department in a city of 200.000.
There were no volunteers. A smaller city was one of our borders. They maintained a department of 100 IAFF, union firefighters, which maintained an on-duty force of 25, and a volunteer force that was only available on nights and weekends. With any working structure fire, this city committed all of it’s apparatus and working members to the scene, leaving help (Us) to man stations and ultimately go to the scene for fire fighting purposes.It came to pass that the mayor of this city fought tooth and nail not to hire more paid people because WE came when called and WE were free! Needless to say, from a union position, the mutual help stopped. Not only my city, but 3 surrounding cities took a stand. As we speak, the on-duty paid members rely on any volunteers who feel free to respond. This city has many parking lots.