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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Automatic Aid? No. Why Not?

Roanoke City, Town of Vinton, and Roanoke County Firefighters converged on a house located at 7th and Dale in the Town of Vinton Yesterday.
This account was emailed to me:

"Roanoke City fire companies were dispatched Monday evening to a reported structure fire in the area of 7th and Dale SE. At the same time Engine 14 and Medic 6 were on the scene of a minor 10-50 at 13th and Baldwin.{ right beside the Vinton Town limits} The 10-50 was turned over to city PD and medic 6 headed toward the possible fire in SE and Engine 14 headed back to quarters. Finding nothing at 7th and Dale, city fire units were soon cleared and placed back in service. Soon after, it was relayed that Vinton units were on scene battling a house fire at 7th and Dale in Vinton. While returning to quarters, Engine 14 was flagged down by numerous civilians reporting the house fire at 7th and Dale-Vinton. {which is also called Glade street NE in Roanoke City} Engine 14 checked with city dispatch as to whether they needed to head that way and again dispatch said Vinton units were already on scene fighting the fire. Engine 14 approached the scene and discovered their were no units on scene except for a Vinton police officer. Engine 14 gave an initial size-up and began an interior attack due to reports of the house being occupied. Vinton units began arriving shortly after and then additional city units were requested by E-14. City Engine 6, Ladder 1, and BC-1 responded.

Interior efforts were later halted due to the large amount of debris piled up throughout the entire structure. All doors were completely blocked. It was later learned that the occupants accessed the house by climbing through the windows. At one point, there were {2} 1 3/4 inch attack lines, {1} 2 1/5" attack line {exterior}, and later E-14's aerial device were deployed to battle the blaze. Once the fire was knocked down, city units cleared and Vinton units remained on scene to perform overhaul operations with the aid of a back hoe. Due to the large amount of debris encountered, this structure was dubbed the meanest 1 1/2 story house fire we have seen in a while. This was a prime example of the need for automatic aid with Vinton and Roanoke County!
Political boundaries should not stand in the way of service to citizens in need of help."

It was brought to my attention that Medic 6 was on scene fighting fire also.
I got an email explaining a little bit of the County Side: "... something else you prolly didn't know Read Mountain scratched the call and they are the 3rd due company or maybe 2nd to that location. No Engine No Medic truck from them not sure where the next in companies came from. "

My question is this. If Read Mountain did indeed scratch the call and Vinton Engine 2 was on scene, who would have come to help them and when would they have gotten there?

The town of Vinton lacks an effective fully staffed Department. Yet when Vinton needs assistance, which is common on structure fires, they call for the county. Why? If they truly want the best for there citizens then call the City. The City's fire stations are closer, housing staffed fire engines. Heck Station #14 is right next to Vinton and has one of those watchamacallits on top of it (you know the telesquirt thing that is costing the City millions of dollars because we have to build brand new stations so that it will fit in them).

The City is missing a huge opportunity here. They could offer supplemental fire protection for the County, Salem, and Vinton all the time and make money. That money could be used for more staffing (which would be needed to maintain response times) , better equipment, better benefits for the Firefighters. Wait a minute though, the localities would be spending money on fire protection for their citizens then. Scratch that, they don't do that now, why would they go for that.

Oh and by the way. That fire, you know the one in Vinton that we are talking about. Yeah the fire which wasn't even in the City. The way I see it, that fire cost the City almost $300,000. Why you ask. Well you know those telesquirt things that THE CITY JUST HAD TO HAVE, you know the ones on top of Engine 4, 10, and 14. Well putting those incidentals on top of a fire engine cost the City approximately $300,000 more than what three custom fire engines would have cost. That being said, the fire in Vinton was the first fire that one of those telesquirts was used. HOORAY!! Let's celebrate. Oh yeah and by the way, the Check is in the Mail.

The point that I was trying to make is basically this; The localities involved around Roanoke City should be using Automatic Aid as a last resort. Before Automatic Aid, the localities should have hired a fully staffed Career Department which operates at all the stations 24/7. Supplementation by Volunteers is perfectly acceptable and would benefit the Citizens. Once this staffing level has been achieved then you can fine tune Mutual Aid agreements. Automatic Aid should occur only as a temporary solution to the problem or as the end all, if all other options are considered. This is because of liability, for missing calls, of the Aiding Department (in their own jurisdiction).

I might add that Mutual aid as I have posted before is merely an agreement between localities that if one has an incident and needs more resources then the other may be called. See this post for more information on this subject.


Anonymous said...

Ok I think first it was a miscommunication between City Dispatch and Vinton Dispatch. I listened to most of the incident from the time of the original city dispatch and agree how it went was wrong. I think the system with automatic aid between Engine 6 and Engine 14 backing up Vinton should be organized like the aid with Mount Pleasant and Engine 11. Just my opinion though.

FireFleitz said...

Thanks for the comment. I added a little bit above for some clarification. It took a while to piece together this post. I had a hard time saying what I wanted to say and saying what I meant.

Anonymous said...

Since you are not from Roanoke, you don't know of the politics involved. Roanoke County, Vinton , and Salem wants no part of Roanoke and has voted down consolidation. The county has held the city hostage when the city had a water shortage, but will sure use the city for fire protection. I, for one, do not want my tax dollars protecting them. They have always looked down at the the citizens of Roanoke, so preach your mutual aid elsewhere.

FireFleitz said...

I understand where you are coming from, however you have misunderstood me. What you do not agree with is the Automatic Aid. Which I do not either. That is what is set up mostly now. Mutual Aid is ok as long as it is just Mutual Aid. The basic idea behind Mutual Aid is that it is a gentlemens agreement between two departments saying that if we have "the big one" then we can call you for help. This has happened for years. Look at the flood of 85' when the Salem Firefighters helped out because the City FF's were at the funerals for the Fallen Firefighters. If you need more clarification I would be glad to offer it. I think that we are on the same page. I just think you are misunderstanding the terms Automatic and Mutual and their exact definitions. Then again maybe I did not clarify my point well enough.

Anonymous said...

Here's the deal from the other side of the county line: First of all, as I understand it, City units were never requested to respond to this incident. They were just down the street on another incident and saw the fire in Vinton. I don't want to sound critical, because their assistance was welcome, however, the truth is that they self-dispatched. County units had been dispatched and were enroute.

The City apparatus on the scene notified City Control, who then dispatched a full structural assignment from the City. County Wagon 2 (from Vinton) arrived on the scene at about this time. To the best of my knowledge, they never actually requested a City response. The second due apparatus to this incident is Engine 6 (Mt Pleasant). Third due is Wagon 12 (Read Mountain). Engine 6 operated on the scene with Wagon 2 and the City apparatus.

Anonymous said...

The reason I bring this all up is that, more than the need for automatic aid, it illustrates a deficiency in the County's administration because of their unwillingness to adequately staff County stations. It would be far quicker for units from Vinton to respond as second due to City 14 or City 6 than many other City units, and the reverse is true as well. The City refuses to put in place an automatic aid agreement as long as Vinton and the County rely on volunteers to staff the Wagon on nights and weekends, and understandably so. As one of the County's 24 hour firefighters, I worry about what sort of help I will recieve if we get the big one, and it just happens to not be a weekday, between the hours of 6a-6p.

In the end, it appears the County doesn't care about its citizens, or its firefighters. They insist that they cannot afford to staff stations fully. I insist that they cannot afford not to. But then, I doubt that anyone here would disagree with me.

Just my nickel's worth...