Teamwork: How northern Utah fire departments battle large fires together

Local News

WEBER COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) – Fire departments in Utah rely on one another to help fight big fires. Fire officials in Weber County explain how that is beneficial to the fire departments in their county and the taxpayers.

When a warehouse fire broke out in Riverdale Monday evening, seven fire departments from across Weber County and one from Davis County responded. This is a normal occurrence.

“We all have very limited staffing in Weber County, so we rely heavily on each other to suppress fires, especially large fires,” Riverdale Fire Department Fire Chief Jared Sholly told ABC4 as crews were finishing up at the warehouse fire.

On Wednesday, Weber Fire District Deputy Fire Chief Britt Clark explained, “These incidents don’t come along every day, so when we staff up, we staff up to meet the day-to-day demands.”

To meet protocol set by the National Fire Protection Agency, Ogden City Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief Mike Slater told ABC4, “The National Fire Protection Agency requires the initial response on a structure fire to have 14 firefighters. That’s hard to do with any one jurisdiction.”

For many departments across the county, Slater said this would put too large a strain on their resources, so the county (like many counties) has protocol in place for automatic aid. This basically means when a call for a structure fire comes into dispatch, a few firefighters from multiple fire departments closest to the fire respond at the same time. This allows the departments to reach that 14 firefighter requirement without draining one single station of its crew members.

Mike Slater simplifies this by saying, “For example, if there’s a fire in Ogden City on the north end of our city, we’ll dispatch agents from Weber Fire District and North View fire because they also reside in the north side of the county.”

“The citizens — when they (call) — expect a quick response with qualified people that will mitigate their emergency,” stated Britt Clark. “They don’t care what’s on the door (of the emergency vehicle). They don’t care what the t-shirts say.”

Then there’s mutual aid — when the call for help is extended to agencies that may be farther away. This call is usually made when the fire department responding to a fire that needs specific help or equipment from another department, but this type of help is not guaranteed.

Mike Slater simplified by saying, “If we do a mutual aid request and ask for resources from Weber Fire, for example, and they’ve got enough emergencies in their own jurisdiction, they may deny that mutual aid.”

Fire officials say the automatic aid and mutual aid protocol help them quickly respond to larger incidents without depleting one fire station of all its resources as well as helping the taxpayer. “When these big incidents come in it takes a lot more people, and the burden on taxpayers to maintain that much staffing for something that happens maybe five to 10 times a year would be a huge burden on the citizens,” concluded Britt Clark.

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