Within a local community many agencies provide resources to respond to localized events without official agreements. These may include a single scene with Police, Fire, EMS, Department of Public Works (utilities), etc. Since each local agency is responding within its own jurisdiction, issues such as insurance, reimbursements, and personnel overtime are handled within each agency.
When agencies outside of the local resources, such as other county fire departments, sheriff offices, private ambulance services, or others respond to a scene outside their “home” jurisdiction, mutual aid agreements must be in place. Sometimes called “Memorandums of Understanding” (MOUs), “Mutual Aid Contracts,” “Compacts for Mutual Assistance,” or any similar variation, these agreements outline who responds to what, when, why, and describes how we all play along. While this is typically the job of the city or county attorney, it is wise to understand who your department has agreements with and what those agreements cover. At the state, interstate, and federal levels these agreements are often administered under the National Emergency Management Association. Local agreements may be administered by the city or county attorney, or maybe even state Attorney General.
While actual agreements will vary according to jurisdiction, many templates are available online which cover the general considerations addressed in the majority of agreements. These agreements cover the types of incidents that mutual aid can respond to and the maximum response that can be made (you do not want to leave your own jurisdiction uncovered!), and spell out the level of response that will be given. Most of the basic agreements include details regarding:
• Personnel (paramedic? SWAT team?)
• Vehicles (Ambulance? Ladder Truck?)
• Supplies and Other Resources (Generator? Scene Lights? Robots?)
• Communications (What frequency?)
• Incident Command (If we respond with our ________, who is in command?)
Additional topics, such as personnel and vehicle insurance, fee reimbursements and waivers, even how to make the request for mutual aid should be discussed in the agreement. Some mutual aid is “automatic.” Others need a formal request from a certain level of authorization. Many have specific clauses that state the mutual aid agency is NOT required to respond if they do not have the resources available. Others may discuss inter-jurisdictional responses where training and certification requirements are different, critically important if you respond to another state “at the local level.” For example, if your department is three miles from the state border; and you respond within the adjoining state’s jurisdiction for a mutual aid request, what does the agreement say about your state certification?
Beyond the obvious agencies that provide mutual aid to each other, fire, EMS, law enforcement, and EMA, look for other agreements that may exist in your area. How about the utility company from an adjacent county? Your local or regional animal shelter? For a great online document discussing and describing Mutual Aid Agreements can be found here.
Finally, all contracts have an expiration date. Please take a moment sometime this month to find out if any of the Mutual Aid Agreements in place between your department and another agency is due to be renewed. If so, know and follow the procedure for negotiation and renewal. Mutual Aid agreements can take time to execute. Consider each line item to be renewed since the last agreements to determine whether there have been changes. For example, have you or the other agency gotten any new equipment? Have you changed the service fees to be reimbursed? Have they? Has there been any change to the services in the jurisdiction? Starting well before the expiration date will ensure you do not go uncovered.