Now when a structure fire or fire alarm is dispatch for the towns of Elkin or Jonesville, multiple departments automatically will be dispatched to assist one another.
Prior to the Elkin Board of Commissioners unanimously approving the automatic mutual aid agreement between Arlington and Elkin fire departments Monday, Elkin Fire Chief Mike Morton explained to the commissioners the different in mutual aid and automatic mutual aid.
Elkin has mutual aid agreements with several surrounding departments including CC Camp, State Road, Pleasant Hill and Arlington volunteer fire departments, and with Surry County EMS and State Road VFD for decontamination of patients at Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital.
The basic mutual aid agreement means if Elkin has a structure fire, fire alarm or other call in which they need assistance, a member of the Elkin department can radio to dispatch and request another department be called in for help. But for Elkin it’s not quite that simple, since Elkin Fire is dispatched through Elkin Police Department telecommunicators, who then have to contact Surry or Wilkes or Yadkin 911 Centers, who then dispatch the assisting department.
With that mutual aid, it might take several minutes between the time the original call for help is dispatched to Elkin Fire members, who then have to get on the scene and request further help, and when the assisting departments can get personnel en route to lend aid.
Mutual aid, Morton explained, is how the town’s fire department can battle limited staffing as well.
With automatic mutual aid, when Elkin Fire Department is dispatched to a structure fire or fire alarm, now Arlington will be dispatched automatically to assist, without firefighters having to request the response. The same will be done for Elkin going to assist Arlington for those calls dispatched in the town limits of Jonesville.
Morton said Arlington covers a much larger fire district than just the town of Jonesville, and Elkin will retain a basic mutual aid agreement to assist the Yadkin firefighters if they request it outside the town limits, but the automatic agreement will only be for in the town limits.
“It cuts down on the delay we have and gets manpower there quicker,” Morton told the commissioners.
Another benefit of automatic mutual aid, Morton said, is the state, when calculating a district’s insurance rating, recognizes automatic aid with extra points higher than that of a basic mutual aid since the response is coming rapidly. Extra points mean a possible lower ISO rating, which lowers homeowners’ fire insurance costs.
Morton also reported to the board that the mutual aid agreements the fire department has in place with the other surrounding departments “may not be legally binding because they were not brought to this board” for approval. Morton said the fire department cannot enter a legally binding contract without the board’s approval.
As he researches the agreements, he said he would be bringing them back to the board for formal approval in the future.
While the automatic mutual aid would guarantee two departments responding, once on the scene, Morton said the department could then request further help for other departments when needed.
By partnering with Arlington, which responds in a similar team response format at Elkin’s response policy which has been in effect since June, Morton said that will combat the lack of numbers of personnel Elkin has been facing.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.