Engine Company EMS: Working with Mutual-Aid Companies

By Michael Morse and John C. Healey

As the need for emergency medical services (EMS) increases and resources to meet these needs remains stagnant, we rely on mutual aid more often. It is not uncommon for crews dispatched on 911 calls to work with complete strangers. Treating the sick and injured is a difficult job, but working together is essential. https://www.fireengineering.com/articles/2017/12/engine-company-ems-clockwork.html.

There is no reason not to treat incoming advanced life support units with the same consideration you give to members of your own department or the people with whom you run every day. There is always plenty to do on an EMS call, and doing something is far more satisfying than simply taking vitals and waiting for an ambulance.


Simple Mutual-Aid Etiquette

The more professional we are, the more professionally we will be treated. When we treat people respectfully and go the “extra mile,” more often than not, those people step up their game and respond in kind. Our job is stressful enough, but I found a few simple ways to alleviate that stress, which follow:

When working with out-of-town responders, locate your truck where it can be seen, and leave the lights on. Streets we know like the backs of our hands are confusing to people who have not been there dozens of times, even with a global positioning system.

Establish communications through a mutual-aid channel instead of relaying through dispatch. No matter how good your dispatchers are, something is always lost when messages are relayed.

Advise of any hazards (i.e., low wires, obstacles, low overhangs). A few quick words save seconds, and, sometimes, a few seconds saves lives.

Place a member on the exterior to guide incoming units. If staffing allows, a member familiar with the building who can lead the out-of-town crew to the patient without delay is always appreciated.

Park so the transport unit has the best access. Simple, standard operating procedures are sometimes forgotten when responding with mutual-aid companies.

Obtain and document a SAMPLE survey. For example: www.fireengineering.com/articles/2016/07/the-sample-survey.html.

Treat patient according to local protocols. Don’t wait!

Gather belongings, medical cards, medications. These are a patient’s essential items.

If the patient is ambulatory, move toward the exit. If not, advise the incoming unit what equipment is needed (stretcher, stair chair, and so on). Determine whether the patient can safely ambulate and begin the process of movement, making sure there is a warm, lighted spot with a seat while you wait for the mutual-aid company to arrive.

Assist with or carry the patient. This small gesture in the big scheme of things is the single most appreciated act an EMS Engine Company can perform.

Ask, “Do you need a driver?” And don’t wait to ask!

Ask, “Do you need staffing?” This is especially for when dealing with volatile patients.

Thank the incoming unit for their assistance. Remember, mutual-aid companies come into your jurisdiction to help you. Common courtesy goes a long way toward establishing yourself, your crew, and your department as professional, competent, and proud firefighters.

Treating a mutual-aid company as an equal will reflect positively on your department. Remember the dangerous nature of our vocation; any incident could go badly. Then, YOU could be their patient.


John C. Healey is a battalion chief (Ret.) with the Providence (RI) Fire Department.

Michael Morse is a former captain with the Providence (RI) Fire Department (PFD), an author, and a popular columnist. He served on PFD’s Engine Co. 2., Engine Co. 9, and Ladder Co. 4 for 10 years prior to becoming an EMT-C on Rescue Co 1 and Captain of Rescue Co. 5.

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