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Before I launch into telling you more than you probably want to know about Automatic Aid and its use in the Phoenix Metropolitan area there are some facts to be shared about the Glendale Fire Department’s response times.

Fact #1: In a recent news article Glendale Fire Chief Mark Burdick was asked about the response time of the department and he answered with the response time of the department for the last 5 years. The times you see below are either the average or median of all times. Not every call is answered in 8 minutes. Some are far less and some are far more. One would assume that multiple EMS calls coming into the dispatch center are prioritized by severity of the medical status. Burdick stated the Glendale Fire Department response times for 90 percent of calls by year:

  • 2010 8 minutes 11 seconds
  • 2011 8 minutes 10 seconds
  • 2012 8 minutes 6 seconds
  • 2013 8 minutes 12 seconds
  • 2014 8 minutes 12 seconds

Fact #2: Glendale is one of ten cities in the state accredited by the non-profit organization, The Center for Public Safety Excellence. This agency is responsible for accrediting individuals and agencies internationally. It is a much coveted accreditation and the men and women of the Glendale Fire Department are proud to have earned it. The agency recognized that the Glendale Fire Department meets its requirements in terms of response times.

Fact #3: A legal definition is “Automatic aid means contractual agreement between two agencies, communities or fire districts to assist the nearest available resource to the incident by disregarding the jurisdictional boundaries. It is usually established on a mutual use basis. It is dispatched without a formal request. It is usually the first type of mutual aid to arrive at an incident scene.” (http://definitions.uslegal.com/a/automatic-aid/).

Here is an example. An emergency call is received at a residence on the south side of Camelback Road (Glendale’s southern boundary) and 75th Avenue in Phoenix. The Phoenix fire station that typically would respond is out on another call. The next nearest fire station that can respond is in Glendale. The Glendale unit would be dispatched to the call. Or there is an emergency call at a Glendale residence at 59th Avenue and Northern Avenue. The nearest Glendale unit is in service. The nearest unit not in service is in Phoenix and would be dispatched to answer the Glendale call. In essence, when there is a call for service automatic aid allows the closest available fire unit to respond to the call ignoring municipal boundaries. It’s a great system because it insures that a person in distress will receive the quickest care available. So what’s the problem?

Automatic Aid began its use in the 1976 and was originally created between Phoenix, Glendale and Tempe. Today 23 Valley governmental agencies are participants in the Valley’s automatic aid system. They are: * Chandler Fire DepartmentDaisy Mountain Fire DepartmentGlendale Fire DepartmentMesa Fire DepartmentPhoenix Fire DepartmentScottsdale Fire DepartmentTempe Fire DepartmentAvondale Fire-RescueGilbert Fire DepartmentGuadalupe Fire DepartmentPeoria Fire DepartmentTolleson Fire DepartmentEl Mirage Fire DepartmentGoodyear Fire DepartmentQueen Creek Fire DepartmentSun City Fire DistrictApache Junction Fire DistrictBuckeye Fire DepartmentBuckeye Valley Fire DistrictMaricopa Fire DepartmentSun City West Fire DistrictSun Lakes Fire DistrictSurprise Fire Department.

Here is the document signed by the 23 participating agencies: AZ Automatic aid . I am not presenting the entire document within the body of this blog as it is 11 pages. Please go to the link I have provided to read the document. Its basic components include:

  • The closest, most appropriate, unit to an emergency responds regardless of the political jurisdiction of the incident or the responders.
  • All of the fire departments within automatic aid act as one large system. The system is seamless. There are no requirements for formally requesting aid.
  • The incident commander on the scene of the emergency calls for resources in a standard way and they are immediately dispatched.
  • Fire departments use the same dispatching, command, and tactical procedures. The dispatch system is capable of accommodating the needs of individual jurisdictions.
  • Automatic aid is a two-way street. Aid is given and received without a regular accounting of who goes where. Joint long-term planning solves coverage issues at borders.
  • Ambulance response is governed by the Certificate of Need issued by the State of Arizona.
  • No reimbursement for expenses incurred during a response except where agreed to by the parties. Specific disaster reimbursements are permitted.

Requirements of all participating agencies include:

  • Membership by the department’s fire chief or principle assistant in the Central Arizona Life Safety Response System Council.
  • All fire departments utilize the same tactical and command procedures. All battalion chiefs must attend a minimum of 9 monthly training sessions.
  • Radio coverage must be provided that allows portable radios to be heard by the dispatch center, including in-building coverage.
  • Fire companies, engines and ladders, must be staffed with a minimum of four firefighters on-duty.
  • Compatible equipment inventories and company functions. Apparatus numbering according to Valley-wide plan.
  • Mobile computers and automatic vehicle location equipment.
  • Standard dispatch assignments with the ability to tailor response to specific areas.

There is no doubt that automatic aid is a wonderful system and certainly is critical, very critical, to the Valley’s fire service delivery system. Although it may have been updated over the 40 years of its existence I could find nothing to substantiate it. Whether it has been updated previously or not it is time to not only update the agreement but to reform it. In Part 2 of this blog we will look at specific provisions of the agreement in need of reform that would be of benefit to the participating agencies and their taxpayers.

© Joyce Clark, 2015


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