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Posted: 12/18/13

Local fire departments
begin auto aid agreement

by CHRIS GRAY
Observer Staff Writer
      The fire departments of Armada, Bruce-Romeo and Washington all agree to have each other's backs regardless of boundaries.
       The three communities have approved of automatic aid agreements in the past three weeks to provide equipment and manpower for structural fires and reduce response times.
       On Dec. 11, Bruce-Romeo Fire Department Chief Ken Staelgraeve explained departments depend on the resources of neighboring departments through mutual aid. Mutual aid helps meet national standards for fire service that say there should be 14 to 15 personnel on site prior to beginning interior fire-fighting.
       He said the problem, however, is that structural fires require the first department on scene to assess the situation before calling for assistance. He said a fire doubles in size every 90 seconds, meaning a lot of damage can occur while waiting for back-up.
       "That help can be four, five, six, seven minutes away," he said. "Four, five, six or seven minutes is a long time to wait for help before we can start interior fire-fighting operations."
       The fire chiefs of the three departments came together and developed an automatic aid agreement to alleviate the problem. The agreement states the departments will dispatch four-member crews at the same time to confirmed structural fires, thereby eliminating the delay.
       Confirmed structural fires are those where dispatch receives multiple reports of flames and smoke, an explosion, or a homeowner had to exit the home due to a fire. Fire alarms or car fires aren't included.
       Staelgraeve said cost increases would be minimal since these are calls the departments would respond to regardless.
       "It's a safer way to go and it's one of the things that is happening throughout the county," he said.
       Each chief will monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the agreement on an annual basis.
       The Bruce Township Board of Trustees unanimously approved of agreements for both Armada and Washington on Dec. 11.
       In Washington Township, the Board of Trustees signed off on the agreement between itself and Bruce on Dec. 4, and will vote on the Armada agreement tonight. Supervisor Dan O'Leary said he plans on recommending approval for the agreement.
       "From a pure safety consideration, it's having trucks on the road immediately when they hear the fire alarm, so there is no delay when getting people there," he said.
       Even though Washington is the largest community of the three, O'Leary said he wasn't worried about the Washington Township Fire Department responding more than the other municipalities or vice versa.
       "If we were incurring a lot of costs it might be different, but when you've already got the staff and the only cost is gas when they're mobilized, no one is getting hurt by it and it's just a safe thing to do," he said.
       He said the agreements not only provide additional manpower without having to employ more personnel, but insurance rates may increase at a slower rate since the community will be better prepared to handle fires.
       The Armada Township Board of Trustees approved its automatic aid agreements on Dec. 11. Supervisor John Paterek said the agreement is just another way to ensure the fastest service times possible for the communities.
       "The bottom line is when a situation is going on, it doesn't matter who is there, it's who is closest," he said.
       The agreement states all members of the fire departments will participate in joint training exercises to ensure performance levels are maintained.


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