Friday, September 26, 2008
Busy week as Fire Dept. provides mutual aid three times
By noon this past Sunday, the Carlisle Fire Department had returned from the latest of three mutual aid calls within five days. Firefighters responded to one call for assistance from Lincoln and two from Concord.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Carlisle Fire Department covered the fire station in Lincoln while the Lincoln Fire Department responded to a house fire on Beaver Pond Road. At the time of the house fire alarm, the Lincoln Fire Department had been responding to a school bus accident. Finding themselves shorthanded, they used the mutual aid system and called Carlisle for help.
On Saturday, the Carlisle Fire Department provided mutual aid support at the scene of the four-alarm fire that destroyed the retail space at Verrill Farm in Concord (see “Verrills plan to rebuild after fire destroys farmstand,” ).
Later that weekend, on Sunday morning, Concord requested aid from the Carlisle Fire Department at the Nashoba Brooks School where an electrical malfunction in an aquarium pump is believed to have caused a small fire. Although there was no major damage to the building, it was the second time in 24 hours that the Concord Fire Department had requested mutual aid from area fire departments.
According to Chief David Flannery of the Carlisle Fire Department, mutual aid is essential for every community in providing an effective response to an emergency. “There is no community that has all the resources for fire fighting,” Flannery explained. A regional organization is used to help allocate equipment and manpower when an emergency takes place. Carlisle belongs to Fire District 14, which comprises 23 communities extending from Carlisle in the north to Hopedale in the south.
“The chiefs meet and develop plans and strategies for emergencies. We determine how equipment can be shared. There are some grants available for district equipment purchase. We [District 14] share an ambulance which is housed in Northboro. We also share a hazardous material vehicle and a communications center [used for four-alarm or higher level calls] which are both housed in Ashland.”
At the state level, Massachusetts provides the Statewide Fire Mobilization Plan which was developed 40 years ago to cover catastrophic events. The plan is used to identify resources and to have them available if needed. Flannery noted that this system was used during the recent hazardous material fire in Danvers. Plans are in place for large scale hazardous material fires, structural fires, and brush fires. Through this program Carlisle was called to cover a fire station during the deadly warehouse fire in Worcester several years ago.
“Mutual aid is the way of life for the fire service,” says Flannery. Mutual aid is needed when the home fire department does not have adequate manpower. Often this happens when multiple emergencies occur at the same time. In other circumstances it can happen as a result of budget cuts leaving local fire departments short-staffed. According to Deputy Fire Chief Jonathan White, the staffing ratio of firefighters versus the general population is decreasing, “None of the towns have kept pace with the population increase.” As neighboring communities cut budgets and close fire stations, it is expected that calls for mutual aid will increase.
According to Flannery, specifically trained personnel are required to fight a fire. Currently each truck must carry four firefighters. A given fire may require a ladder truck and personnel, personnel and equipment to pump and relay water, personnel to recharge breathing apparatus and a command and rehab station. If the fire takes place at night, lighting units are needed. In addition, if a rescue is necessary, federal guidelines require a minimum of four firefighters to perform the rescue.
For towns with no hydrants or public water supply, such as Carlisle, tankers which can truck water to the site are imperative. Flannery explained that even in towns with a public water supply, hydrants may not be nearby. In many cases, fire departments must rely on mutual aid for tankers. However, fewer communities have tankers available for mutual aid calls. Billerica and Hanscom each have tankers, but use of the Hanscom tanker requires approval by the base commander. In general, towns only send one piece of equipment on a mutual aid call, leaving the remainder in case of a local need. Carlisle tends not to send its tanker out of town, since it provides an important water supply for fighting fires in town.
Providing mutual aid is expensive. All costs including liability are borne by the sending town. Although Flannery says that fire departments do not refuse to provide mutual aid, it is often helpful to do an analysis of mutual aid responses over time. Flannery noted that Carlisle used to supply regular mutual aid support to Concord, “We were going on automatic dispatch to Middlesex School 15 to 16 times a year. I did an analysis of the calls and found that 100% of the time we were not needed and were released on arrival.” After working with the Concord Fire Department, it was agreed that the Carlisle Fire Department would be called when needed.
Carlisle has also been on the receiving end of mutual aid. In March, mutual aid provided help fighting a brush fire in the Oak Knoll neighborhood. Last year, mutual aid was provided to Carlisle five times. Flannery noted that when it comes to mutual aid, “We give more than we receive,” despite the fact that Carlisle’s Fire Department has no full-time employees and is the last “on call” department in the area. ∆
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