Letter To The Editor

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Fire District Automatic Aid Response

In last week’s edition of the Bonners Ferry Herald there was an article regarding a fire on the railway and the first call for North Bench and South Boundary Fire running together in an Automatic Aid program. From that article someone started some very negative points on Facebook that were unjustified without checking the facts.

Since trying to combine the North Bench area with the South Boundary District to create a better fire service earlier this year, it was quite evident the group that was present did not want any sort of tax for fire services, and at that time we (South Boundary and North Bench Firefighters) put it to rest. We can only do what the community wants.

It seems that this automatic aid has some scared, so if I may, I will hopefully clarify some issues. “Mutual Aid” is what we have with most fire agencies in the county. This is when a call comes in to the dispatch center, they call the home department and the home department responds to the call. Once on scene of the incident or sometimes enroute, the home department will call others for help. “Automatic Aid” is when a call comes in and dispatch calls all agencies tied into the agreement immediately. All agencies respond and if it is decided that the help is not needed, the departments assisting will be cancelled.

This process may seem a little silly to some, why not wait until we know if help is needed, this might save a few dollars in the end. Well, responding after the fact creates a much slower response and this can cost time and maybe lives. In the case of North Bench and South Boundary we are already responding to each other’s calls and this just gets us there quicker. In the automatic aid response, the type of equipment that responds has already been predetermined in our response plan.

Why North Bench and South Boundary? Some agencies, per their legal advice, have not allowed mutual aid with certain entities, for example a taxing district with a private association. In Boundary County there are three fire associations, two taxing city departments and two taxing fire districts. South Boundary Fire is a taxing district and has mutual aid agreements with all fire agencies in Boundary County and one in Bonner County. North Bench does not have agreements with all since they are an association. In both type of agreements each agency offers their equipment and personnel to the other. In exchange, the other does the same when called upon. This increases the amount of personnel on scene to help with safety of the responders and victims. On any fire incident NFPA requires two entry teams of two, A RIT team, engineer, EMS, Support, an Operations Chief and an Incident Commander. This is a minimum of 10 people before EMS or support personnel.

In years past, all of the rural departments that shared a common dispatch channel due to cost had an automatic aid program. This became a little unorganized and was converted to mutual aid. We now have an organized response plan to assist. There was question as to why only these two agencies, I believe each agency is doing what they can according to their boards and bylaws. The suggestion was brought to the local fire chiefs association in May, then again in June and finally was implementing in July after getting input from EMS, Dispatch and Law enforcement.

There are plans in the works to do cross training on tactics and operations which is not a new thing in the rural areas of the County. Recently there has been training with all fire agencies and IDL. EMS and Law are working on tactical training, recently, Fire, Search and Rescue, Law, EMS and the Tribe all worked on a water rescue team. We increase our efficiency by training as a group and many of our incidents require a large group to mitigate.

In the end, this will not cost South Boundary taxpayers anymore or North Bench Association members anymore, what it will do is up to double the amount of responders and equipment on each call and each agency is responsible for their own costs. Our goal as emergency responders is to provide the best service we can for the communities we serve. If you get a chance, check out your fire department’s “Mission Statement” it will sound similar to that.

One last point of interest, Boundary Ambulance Service has an Automatic aid program with all Fire agencies in the county outside of Bonners Ferry. This is labelled as a Mutual Aid Program but it is automatic. Automatic aid makes the decision for the lesser experienced personnel that may not be sure whether or not to call for help or the one that says we’ve got this one and don’t need to call for help.

I urge anyone with any question or suspicions that the Firefighters or Chiefs are trying to pull a fast one on the community, please come to a training night and see how serious these great volunteers are about learning and training to save lives in their off times from their regular jobs.

Tony Rohrwasser

Fire Chief

South Boundary Fire Protection District

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