How Departments of a County or Section Can Assist One Another by Means of Systematic and Pre-arranged Plans

Chief John J. Brennan

THE Chief of a volunteer department is anxious to aid a neighbor when in distress, for it is a service of this kind which naturally fosters a friendly spirit between volunteer and paid departments and acts to eliminate any petty jealousies that might exist between these units.

It must be admitted that no municipality, whether large or small, can maintain sufficient apparatus to cope with a large, rapidly spreading fire, which might also develop into a serious conflagration. Fact records of large fires will reveal that were it not for the timely aid rendered to many communities, untold destruction of property might have resulted.

When a call for aid is received a very serious problem immediately arises. In many localities it is necessary that the Chief obtain permission from the Mayor. Fire Commissioner, or some other official before he can send apparatus outside his own district. If he feels that there might be a delay in obtaining such permission, and responds with the apparatus, and nothing happens, well and good, but if something serious occurs, he would be placed in a very compromising position.

Risk of Accidents to Apparatus and Men

Let us suppose for instance that while responding to a call for aid, the apparatus is wrecked, or that any one of several things happens that might place the apparatus out of service. We all know that repairs and parts, wear and tear on tires, the deterioration of the entire mechanism, not to mention the operation of the pump for extended periods, gasoline, oil, etc., combine to involve large expenditures. All these items make your operating expenses much greater, and as a rule the budgets of volunteer departments, to say the least, are cut to a minimum.

Then there is serious danger of injury to fire department personnel from accidents, whether going to, working at, or returning from alarms of fire. I do not wish to be misunderstood with regard to this matter, as it is not my intention to discourage one department from giving aid to another, when conflagration threatens. This is a problem in which any community may find itself involved at any time, and one that cannot effectively be overcome.

Chief Should Have Full Authority to Act

As fire equipment is purchased and maintained by the taxpayers of a municipality, it is only just that they should at all times have the fullest measure of protection that such equipment affords. Therefore, proper laws and ordinances should be passed by those in authority, giving the Chief full permission to act in any emergency, so that when a call for aid is received there will be no misunderstanding.

The Chief of a Fire Department should not respond to a summons for aid unless such call is received directly from the Chief or other officer in charge at the scene of the fire. Such call should be identified by the Chief requesting aid, giving the name and a secret code word, known only to the Chief officers and assistants of each department.

Message Should be Identified by Code Word

There have been cases where the apparatus responding to such calls was involved in accidents which resulted in members being seriously injured and killed. Upon investigation it was found that no call for aid was requested by the Chief in charge at the fire. If the code word or some identifying signal is used, it will eliminate confusion and the unnecessary response of apparatus.

Even though sufficient apparatus remains in service, within the city, town or village, it frequently happens that the Chief and some of the ablest men in the department respond with the apparatus giving aid; many times practically the entire personnel responds, thus greatly sacrificing the efficiency of the department to the town or village, and jeopardizing the property which is entitled to protection.

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Systematic Plans of Assistance

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System of Covering in Should be Adopted

In towns or villages maintaining only one piece of apparatus, no outside response should be permitted, except to adjoining municipalities, and then only where they have an agreement with a nearby town or village to “cover in” immediately in case of fire.

The infrequency of fires in small towns and villages is something considered by those in authority, but it must be remembered that there is always the danger of the unexpected happening when least prepared. It very often occurs that after reaching the scene of a fire the apparatus is of no value, especially when there are insufficient water facilities.

Chief officers should remember that as soon as the services of the apparatus can be dispensed with, it should be returned to their own districts and placed in service without delay, and should not permit members of the department to stay at the scene of the fire any longer than necessary.

Some Chiefs have suggested that such service should be paid for, and if not, no assistance will be given. This, in my opinion, is not a practical solution of this problem, as one never knows when he will require aid himself.

Some Plan of Action Should Prevail

I believe that chief officers and fire officials of adjoining counties and municipalities should have an organization where their common problems could be fully discussed, and a well thought out plan of action decided upon, so that when calls for aid are received there will be no misunderstanding.

Under such plans, consideration should be given to the promtness with which such aid could be extended; whether the equipment is suitable to give effective assistance; if it is equipped with standardized hose and hydrant connections; if it carries adapters by which such connections can be made to systems; to whom to report; from whom to take orders; how and where to operate; and finally, whether other companies would cover territories left unprotected.

That some predetermined plan of action be decided upon is very essential as companies responding may not be familiar with the streets; size of water mains; location of and operation of hydrants, etc.

In conclusion, I believe that volunteer departments can give very effective aid to paid departments in case of large spreading fires, not only by assisting in their extinguishment, but also by covering unprotected territory.

(From a paper read before the annual convention of the Eastern Association of Fire Chiefs and also before the Westchester County, N. Y., Fire Chiefs Emergency Plan.)

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