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Clearing air on fire calls
MONROE - The Monroe Fire Department's ability to provide mutual aid to or receive aid from neighboring departments will be more clearly defined under a restated Mutual Aid Box Alarm System Deployment Policy.

The public safety committee unanimously recommended the policy at its meeting Monday, March 3. After getting unanimous approval from the Common Council Tuesday, March 4, the next step is to send the policy to neighboring fire departments, Monroe Fire Chief Daryl Rausch said.

Getting the policy in writing allows other departments to know what to expect from Monroe, Rausch said, and "takes care of a potential liability if at some point in the future we're accused of not sending the help that somebody feels that we should."

"I think we had to make sure that this is very clear - that this is the level that we can participate at," Rausch said. "I don't want to get into a situation where we don't respond at the level they expect, and then come back to the city and say, "You didn't do what you said you could do.'

"So this policy very clearly spells out what I feel our minimum capabilities are."

MABAS, which has been in place since 2005, can be used to deploy fire, rescue and emergency medical personnel in a multi-jurisdictional or multi-agency response. Participation in the program is voluntary, and equipment, personnel or services provided under MABAS are exchanged at no charge between municipalities.

Rausch said the only change in the policy is that instead of sending multiple pieces of equipment on a first-alarm MABAS call, the department is "restricting it to one piece of equipment for each level of the MABAS alarm, which is in line with MABAS policy."

In the past, a department could request two pieces of equipment on a first-alarm MABAS call, Rausch said. Now, a neighboring department can only request one apparatus per alarm level from Monroe, and then it must go to other departments.

"That's really the purpose of MABAS, is to spread out the response over more departments so that every department can still respond to other calls," Rausch said.

MABAS recommends no more than 20 percent of a department's resources be sent outside the district. Rausch said on a first or second alarm, the department is at 30 percent of its probable resources and is at 50 percent on third alarm, so the department is "well exceeding what MABAS requires or recommends."

Restated in the policy is that mutual aid requests for full response will not be honored. Full response is when a department responds outside of its district at the same level it would respond to a fire in its own district.

"A first-alarm call in our district amounts to two tenders (two tankers), two engines, a grass truck and at least one command vehicle," Rausch said. "Obviously we can't do that for areas outside of our district."

Rausch said the MABAS information will be updated in April, so the department wanted to get this policy updated as quickly as possible.

Rausch said the restated and revised policy does not affect mutual aid the district would receive from other districts.

"We rarely ask for more than one piece of equipment from any department on a box alarm," Rausch said.

Rausch said a department is still able to refuse mutual aid through the MABAS agreement even if the department is not responding to an emergency in their own district. He said that on Feb. 15, for example, the department had 13 people out of town - four people out of town for personal reasons and another 10 at Blackhawk Technical College - so the department called dispatch that morning to say it would not be available for mutual aid from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Rausch said it is rare for the department to be unavailable for mutual aid and that he doesn't expect there will be many occasions where the department cannot respond at the levels dictated in the revised policy.

"That's why we set the levels where we did, because I believe this is the minimum that we can provide on a normal day," Rausch said. "We do a lot of mutual aid. We probably do more mutual aid out than we do in, but that's to be expected, because we're the largest department in this area. Even our staffing by far exceeds Freeport's staffing on a daily basis."