Automatic vs. Mutual Aid
Automatic aid is assistance that is dispatched automatically by a contractual agreement between two fire departments, communities or fire districts. ISO will recognize an automatic aid plan under the following conditions:
- Must offset a need. Example if a ladder company is needed but the department does not have one, and the neighboring department responds one, credit may be available.
Note; if a ladder company is needed, the aiding ladder company must cover at lease 50% of the needed response district (by hydrant count) in the community being graded.
- Agreement should be in writing.
- Department must be notified on first alarm according to a definite
- Departments must train together quarterly, semiannual and annual.
Drills must be half day drills with the automatic aid companies.
- Automatic Aid Personnel should respond with a needed company
to receive credit.
- Equipment from responsible department can only be matched and
not exceeded. Example: If Station 1's territory required three
needed Engine Companies and Station 1 only had one Engine Company,
but has an automatic aid agreement with Stations 3 and 6 who responded
one Engine Company each. Station 1 would only receive credit for
one automatic aid Engine Company, the third one would become surplus.
However, manpower from the third Engine Company may be credited.
Mutual aid is assistance that is dispatched, upon request, by the
responding fire department. Usually it is requested upon arrival
at the scene. Mutual aid should also be defined by a signed contractual
Generally, Mutual Aid programs are only recognized for water supply.
- For Volunteer drivers, response is delayed by 6 minutes after
the arrival of the first in engine on the scene. For paid drivers
3 minutes is allotted.
- Can be called on as needed
- Agreement should be in writing.
When managed properly Automatic and Mutual Aid Programs can be
very effective. Remember when signing an Automatic Aid Agreement
you are attempting to offset specific needs of the service area.
Once you have met your need, credit will not be given for excess
apparatus. Participating Automatic Aid Departments should have a
clear and concise understanding of your needs and respond accordingly.
If departments are not responding with proper equipment the specific
need will not be met and credit will not be awarded. Also when giving
Automatic Aid, be sure 50% of your firefighting capacity stays inside
your service area and does not respond.
Tips for establishing a successful Automatic and Mutual Aid Programs
- Always strive to use the primary fire departments equipment
first. This will leave some apparatus on the scene available to
respond to other incidents that may occur.
- If giving aid never send more than 50% of equipment and personnel.
Always leave means for backup to respond to incidents in secondary
or primary department’s service area.
- Have a well discipline incident command system in place. This
will provide direction for clear and concise company assignments.
It also is a necessity for accountability.
- Departments should have common mobile and portable radio capabilities.
All members with assisting departments should respond on fire apparatus,
not in private vehicles. This will cut down on the number vehicles
responding to the incident location causing less congestion. It
also will place personnel in a company form prior to arriving on
the scene. This will help the incident commander in three major
- One, it will cut down on the I/C having to assign personnel
- Two, personnel in preset companies will be more familiar will
skills and limitations of each other.
- Three, it will reduce the chances of personnel freelancing.