When is it acceptable to refuse mutual aid?

FireRescue1 Staff

Last November, an assistant volunteer fire chief refused a mutual aid request to a house fire. Since the refusal, the neighboring department that requested help has spoken out about the incident.

The chief, however, continues to stand by his decision. He said the decision was made because his board voted to suspend mutual aid to the county until the county restored the department’s funding. Although he said they do make mutual-aid decisions on a case-by-case basis.

While money plays a role, many mutual aid refusals are based on staffing. So we asked our readers when, and if, it is acceptable to refuse mutual aid. Here are some of their responses.

And if you haven’t already, be sure to add your comments below.

“Some people are going to hate me, but I would say never as long as the mutual aid being offered operates by your same or similar SOGs. It’s kind of hard to hold incident command when groups aren’t on the same page for following the guidelines. Before you are in need of mutual aid, your department really needs to know the other departments that you may have to work hand-in-hand with. Get the departments together to do some training before it’s a real-life situation.” — De Philips

“We only turn down mutual aid if the incident is small or if it was not paged out as necessary.” — Andrew Herban

“As a small volunteer organization, we will politely turn down the request only if we don’t have adequate resources to cover our district. This policy was developed the hard way; we had all our resources at the other end of the county and had a major incident in our district. Now, we verify enough personnel are available in district before sending anything out of district.” — Stephen Barr

“I don’t care if that department is your worst enemy — the bottom line is it is a brotherhood and you always have each other’s backs. You never know when you will need them to cover your own butt. Play nice in the sandbox.” — Rick Brey

“As long as all of our apparatus are in service and we have enough personnel to protect our district, we will respond. If we are down an engine, then we will not provide mutual aid as that would leave us without coverage in case of a fire.” — T. Michael Nepveux

“Mutual aid is by agreement or contract. Spending public funds requires that or a charge for service. If it is not by agreement, then spending the resources may have to be defended. Agreements outline the terms of response. While our agency did respond outside of our district, we did so under a policy that charges could be required for the service. It is important to have an understood policy and be able to respond with available resources to medical needs.” — John Lamb

“Why would you turn it down? Call it ahead to put them on standby. That way you know you can have back-up within minutes.” — Anthony Hill

“No department should refuse to assist another neighboring department. Petty differences are always trumped by the need to protect and serve. Someone losing their property, or maybe even their lives, because one department refused to help another is a sad situation for the firefighting industry.” — Robert Kendrick

“My department goes where we are called. It doesn’t matter to us. If we are asked for help, we help.” — James Schmidt

“You never turn down a call for help. You might get canceled, but never refuse.” — Robert Schroeder

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