Mutual aid agreements have been a fixture in fire services for a very long time. They are often relatively simple in nature and purpose; they do not stipulate how individual communities will organize fire services but focus on a commitment to help one another in times of need.
The fact the current agreement between the core municipalities has been unchanged for 35-years reflects the narrow scope of traditional mutual aid agreements. The real and surprising news in your recent story concerning the future of mutual fire assistance is that, in the future, no such agreement may be required.
Chief Dave Cockle says the opportunity here is to move beyond mutual aid to a core service area agreement or, more specifically, to an integrated fire service. The significance of this comment receives little attention in your story.
Unlike the current situation, an integrated fire service would concern itself with how fire services are organized and delivered for each community. Equipment purchases would reflect the needs of the entire coverage area and perhaps reduce the need to duplicate expensive equipment, such as ladder trucks, in each individual community.
The development or replacement of fire halls would be guided by the need to manage response times throughout the coverage area, not necessarily the need to have a facility where facilities now exist.
Unlike the current situation, fire dispatch would be integrated. Other changes related to staffing might also ensue.
If Chief Cockle and his colleagues are successful in bringing forth a plan for an integrated fire service they will have accomplished something we see too little of in the core municipalities.
The municipalities should ensure the chief and his colleagues have the resources they need to develop a plan. As for Mayor Nils Jensen’s comment that the negotiations will not come to next year, let’s hope that the chiefs’ work will be based on professional expertise rather than parochial interests.
We should all get a look at how the experts would organize an integrated fire service. If the municipal leadership then chooses to negotiate something else, we will have a basis to either applaud their action or hold them accountable.