Mutual aid agreement benefits both city and rural firefighters

By Gary Demuth
Salina Journal – March 6, 2017

Photo by Tom Dorsey

Photo by Tom Dorsey

On April 15, 2015, when the improper disposal of smoking materials resulted in a fire that severely damaged the Flying J Travel Plaza, 2250 N. Ohio, city firefighters were grateful to have a mutual aid agreement with nearby rural fire districts.

The blaze was designated a four-alarm fire, which meant all off-duty city firefighters were called to work the fire and man the city fire stations.

The water supply onsite was supplemented by water hauled in by three tanker trucks from Rural Fire Districts 2, 5 and 7 in Saline County.

Without a mutual-aid agreement between fire departments, what already was a destructive fire could have caused even more damage.

“Some incidents can overwhelm a single department,” said David Turner, chief of Rural Fire District 5, located in northeastern Saline County, and also a Salina city firefighter. “The city has special equipment we don’t have in the rural fire districts, and we have equipment they don’t have.”

Because of the mutual-aid agreement between city and rural fire departments, a rural fire department can be called to a fire to supply extra water to fight a blaze, as was the case with Flying J.

“City trucks usually aren’t used out in the county because they typically don’t carry as much water as county trucks,” said Scott Abker, a Salina city firefighter and chief of Rural Fire District 3, which covers western Saline County and includes the Hedville and Brookville areas. “They depend more on hydrants.”
Works both ways

Firefighters from rural districts can be requested to man city fire stations and respond to other local emergency calls while city firefighters are fighting a large structure fire.

Likewise, city firefighters can be requested to help with an out-of-control grass fire to aid rural fire departments, Turner said.

“A lot of what the city has isn’t equipped for grass fires, but they can be there for medical assistance,” he said. “The only thing we don’t have in rural districts is EMT (emergency medical technicians).”

There are six rural fire districts in Saline County, and Turner said many rural firefighters work on a volunteer, on-call basis.

“Everyone carries a pager, and they respond if they can,” he said.

Rural firefighters, even volunteers, are as professional as city firefighters, Abker said. All rural firefighters go through the same training as full-time city firefighters, with the exception of emergency medical training.

“Most every fire district requires the same amount of training,” he said. “There are dedicated people in both arenas who do their jobs very well.”

Salina Fire Chief Kevin Royse said there are two basic types of emergencies to which a fire department will respond — automatic and mutual aid.

“There’s automatic aid, when an alarm comes in and we respond to it,” he said. “Then there’s mutual aid, where there has to be a request made for assistance. The first unit is dispatched and if they get on the scene and it’s too much, they can call in a request for help.”

Royse said the city’s EMTs often are called to serve the county during such emergencies as grass fires and traffic crashes — and to aid distressed rural firefighters as a “standby resource in case they become fatigued.”

“It goes the other way, too, and we’ve had them come in and assist us on occasion,” he said. “If we have a large fire, we need to have the rest of the city manned. We’re really out here by ourselves as a city, with no other major cities close to us, so we really have to rely on our (rural) fire districts for help.”

Each year, the Salina Fire Department answers more than 3,100 fire-related emergencies and 6,800 medical-related emergencies, responding to an average of 20 emergency calls a day. The department also provides specialized services for hazardous material responses, water and trench rescues, vehicle extraction and disaster management.
Rural firefighters vital

Royse said rural firefighters are some of the most dedicated professionals he’s seen in action, even if some of them don’t receive professional-level pay.

“We wouldn’t be able to function as well without rural firefighters,” he said. “Most are on call, and they’re very dedicated. We use rural districts as a hiring pool with a lot of the younger guys. We know them, they’re local people, and they do this because they enjoy helping others.”

Both Turner and Abker said it has been an asset and privilege to work for city and rural fire districts. Turner has been a firefighter for 33 years, starting out at District 5 in 1984 and being promoted to chief in 2009. He was hired as a Salina city firefighter in 1991.

“Sometimes doing both can be a handful, but I’ve done it for such a long time,” he said.

Abker started his career as a volunteer firefighter.

“I got started with District 3 right out of school, so I’ve been in it forever,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else. I started as a volunteer firefighter 32 years ago, then five years later I thought I ought to be paid for it and was fortunate to get on as a city firefighter.

“I’m proud to serve both. You can’t do anything without the help you get from both sides.”


Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
KSFFA’s Fire News Blog Home Page

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