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Why is the city of Wilmington providing free fire service to the county? Doesn’t that leave the city unprotected?

John Peaspanen

Fire trucks line George Anderson Drive as the Wilmington Fire Department and N.C. Forestry Service respond to a woods fire off George Anderson Drive and 17th Street on April 16, 2012. Staff Photo by Mike Spencer

Q. Why is the city of Wilmington providing free fire service to the county at the potential cost of tax payers’ safety and well-being? The city sends entire fire stations into the, while the county sends only one pumper to assist the city on fire. Doesn’t sending those city trucks are in the county leave areas of the city unprotected?

A.   No need to get fired up. The local fire departments have you covered.

According to David Hines, public information officer for the Wilmington Fire Department, the sharing of resources is part of a system utilized by every progressive fire district in the country.

“The system is called Automatic Aid, and has been in place for several years now,” said Hines. “The Fire Department Assessment that was conducted of our department in 2006 strongly suggested that we utilize Automatic Aid. The accreditation process that we are currently undergoing would consider it a blemish if we were not utilizing Automatic Aid. It is an industry standard, or a best practice. The system here has been designed to dispatch the closest unit to help the customer, regardless of where the customer is located or who the responding unit belongs to.”

And when it comes to fighting fires, size doesn’t matter. Hines said, “We believe that ‘Mrs. Smith’ does not care what name is on the side of the fire truck when it arrives in front of her house. When she needs help, she wants help. We are a much bigger department, and we definitely send more units to them (the county) than they send to us. But that happens all over the country. Bigger departments work with smaller departments and both help each other. But if you look just at numbers, the bigger departments will always help more.”

Hines said the city fire department and New Hanover County Fire Services work well together, which increases efficiency and effectiveness. He said, “Working together to help each other provides the best possible customer services for both organizations. Every time we have a big fire like the woods fire on 17th and Independence, the county units are always there helping and back-filling our stations.”

So what about the safety of and cost to taxpayers? Hines said, “No one is getting anything for free; and there is little to no cost to us or them in helping each other. No one’s safety is being compromised. We recently searched data and could not find not one incident where there was a call for service in a city zone while the city unit was in the county, assisting each other.”

“Our battalion chiefs and the county battalion chief will move units as needed to cover for units that are not available for service for any reason,” he continued. “In the case of a unit assisting the county, it could be a county unit from the other side of the county that moves into the city to back-fill one of our stations.”

According to Hines, familiarity breeds success. City and county departments not only respond together; they also train together.

“Our training division works closely with theirs to make sure everyone is familiar with each other,” said Hines. “We work together on developing or modifying guidelines and procedures. Both organizations have implemented the same fire ground procedures to ensure safety for everyone. Battalion chiefs from both organizations meet on a regular basis to address any issues and to improve our coordinated efforts.”


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One Response to “ Why is the city of Wilmington providing free fire service to the county? Doesn’t that leave the city unprotected?”

  1. On January 7, 2013 at 2:39 pm Glen Taylor wrote:

    I retired from an urban department in northern Virginia. Automatic aid is built into responses by all departments in the metropolitan Washington area including the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. It contributes to efficient operations and actually reduces costs to the taxpayers. At the station I was last assigned to I routinely ran into Maryland and occasionally into DC.

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