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Chiefs: Mutual aid remains vital to fire coverage

July 18, 2013
<b>Longmeadow Fire Department</b><br>Photo courtesy of massfiretrucks.com

Longmeadow Fire Department
Photo courtesy of massfiretrucks.com

By Chris Maza


LONGMEADOW — Mutual aid giveth and mutual aid taketh away, but how much goes in each direction?

During a discussion regarding the potential addition of a dog officer to the Longmeadow Police Department, Selectman Mark Santaniello expressed concern with the dog’s usage in mutual aid calls. Using the Fire Department as an example, he asserted that Longmeadow is already heavily depended on, especially by neighboring East Longmeadow, stating, “East Longmeadow seems to live off of Longmeadow in terms of mutual aid.”

While Santaniello’s comments didn’t question the value of mutual aid, they did bring into focus a question as to whether some communities rely more heavily on others.

The numbers between the two departments are conflicting.

According to Longmeadow Fire Chief Eric Madison, the Longmeadow Fire Department responded to 17 mutual aid calls in East Longmeadow. Meanwhile, East Longmeadow responded to fire-related incidents in Longmeadow four times.

East Longmeadow Fire Chief Paul Morrissette told Reminder Publications that in 2012, Longmeadow responded to East Longmeadow just five times, compared to East Longmeadow’s four responses to Longmeadow.

Those numbers do not include ambulance or police responses.

Madison said when looking back historically, he said he felt his department was in East Longmeadow “no more than East Longmeadow spends in Longmeadow,” despite the fact his statistics for last year were unbalanced.

“I think all of our departments somewhat rely upon each other for assistance. In fact, we frequently call East Longmeadow as well as the North Thompsonville district of Enfield [Conn.] to assist us at emergency scenes here in Longmeadow,” he said.

He added that overall, the mutual aid numbers between communities tend to balance out.

For example, while he said his department out-responded East Longmeadow 17 times to four, it did not respond at all to Thompsonville in 2012, while receiving aid from that department seven times.

Madison went on to explain that because of the unpredictability of his profession, it is very possible that from year to year, the numbers could be vastly different.

“It comes in waves. There may be times when they’re busier than we are and we’re over there a lot, but then a year later, they’re in our town a lot. It call comes out a wash,” he said.

Madison admitted that his comments were based on experience and not statistical data. He explained that mutual aid received and given are recorded in the department’s computer reporting system, but because of the inefficiencies of the previous system, a count of prior years’ calls would require more extensive research.

“It’s not as simple as printing out a report because a lot of times it requires a lot of hand searching to make sure it was entered correctly,” he said. “We’ve switched software but we only switched in October or November [2012]. In the old software it wasn’t that simple. In the new system it’s a lot simpler. It’s a lot easier to track now, but I don’t have years of data built up yet under the new system.”

Morrissette said in 2011, East Longmeadow assisted Longmeadow four times and Longmeadow responded to East Longmeadow three times.

In 2010, Longmeadow out-responded East Longmeadow in mutual aid calls 4-1.

East Longmeadow on average responds to between 550 and 600 calls per year. In 2011, Morrissette noted, that number was much higher — more than 700 — due to the severe weather.

Morrissette said that it isn’t uncommon for towns such as East Longmeadow and Longmeadow to assist each other.

“Given the size of our departments, we’re limited, so the practice is pretty standard,” he said. “All surrounding towns have agreements.”

The two departments are members of two mutual aid agreements — the Hampden County Fire Mutual Aid Association, which encompasses all of the fire departments in Hampden County, and Massachusetts Statewide Mobilization Plan.

“The concept behind the Massachusetts Statewide Mobilization Plan is in catastrophic events in one section of the state, we can bring support into sections that need that support in an organized response,” Madison explained. “An example of that was during the tornados. We brought in task forces from around the state for the first couple of days to assist with the search and rescue and that sort of stuff. Another example would be the cold storage warehouse fire in 1999 where we utilized resources from around the state in Worcester.”

Madison stressed the need for these agreements and the benefits Longmeadow receives from them, explaining that staffing levels at all departments, regardless of whether they serve rural and suburban communities or larger cities, are not staffed or equipped to address all emergencies on their own.

“No department in today’s world can staff for every eventuality and be able to manage every incidence scene without assistance from each other,” he said. “Is there a dependency on mutual aid? There definitely is, but that dependency isn’t leaning from one town onto another. We all lean on each other.”

To illustrate his statement, he pointed out that his department was one of those who assisted the Springfield Fire Department, the largest in the area, during the July 3 fire on Chase Avenue that destroyed two homes and damages several others.

“[Mutual aid] has been part of the fire service since I’ve been in the fire service and that’s 35 years now. I don’t see it any stronger today than it was 35 years ago. I think it’s always been a necessary part of firefighting,” he said.

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