Mutual Aid can be best described by the phrase, "sharing the wealth". No matter if a Municipality has a volunteer or a career department to serve its fire protection needs, there are times that they just do not have either enough or the right type of manpower or equipment. Where one town may have a wealth of water carrying tankers and another more pumpers, they can each pool their resources to meet the needs of each. In a town such as Southwest Harbor, we are blessed with a fire hydrant system that covers most of the town. Tremont and Somesville do not have that many hydrants and have chosen to supply their departments with tanker trucks while Southwest Harbor, with it's hydrant system, has more pumpers in the station. When we have a call that is outside our hydrant district we call on tankers from our neighbors to help out and conversely, when either of our neighbors has a large fire, we send pumpers to help them out freeing up equipment to deliver water to the fire.
Manpower is another perfect example, and frequently the most used benefit of Mutual Aid. Our departments are primarily volunteer staffed and when a call comes in, we must all travel from where ever we might be, work, home, shopping and so on, to the Fire House then to the fire. Frequently, the initial response to a call may not have the full number of Fire Fighters it needs necessitating the call out of other departments for additional personnel, not for just the initial stages of a call, but for the duration when the "First in" members will need a rest period.
Automatic Mutual aid is an agreement we use between Departments where for certain types of calls, pre-arranged apparatus or manpower is dispatched immediately to the scene of a fire with out the need for phone calls or discussion. This system has been used frequently and has saved precious time by eliminating the delay in making calls for help.
Mutual Aid agreements are no longer used just by Fire Departments. More and more Law enforcement and Emergency Medical departments and most recently agreements between towns for administrative and public works needs have been penned. Co-operation between towns is so valuable when the costs and demands for services are rising each and every year.