The Northwest Fire District, the Golder Ranch Fire District and the Tucson Fire Department will begin providing automatic emergency response with each other starting in 2020 through a new “Automatic Aid Agreement.” This agreement allows the closest response unit in any of the three departments, either fire or medical, to respond to the emergency call they are closest to, regardless of jurisdictional boundaries.
This news was announced Thursday, Nov. 14 at a very fitting parking lot: half in the Northwest Fire District’s jurisdiction, half in the Tucson Fire Department’s jurisdiction.
“If an emergency call occurs right now, two fire engines will be dispatched, despite only one being needed,” said Northwest Fire District Chief Brad Bradley. “This is what’s referred to as a jurisdictional call, when multiple agencies are sent to the same call until it can be determined which agency is responsible. These types of responses occur on a near daily basis, in addition to units being sent to calls that other agencies are closer to, but are not able to respond to due to lack of agreements in place.”
The new automatic aid area combines all three districts’ jurisdictions. The new area is roughly 640 square miles, spanning from the Oracle area down past South Tucson, with a combined population of more than 770,000 residents. Within the area are 43 fire stations, 46 engine companies, 11 ladder companies and 28 ambulances.
“This new agreement demonstrates our collective desire to better serve our communities and represents a shift in operating philosophy,” Bradley said. “By bringing these resources together for the first time ever, response times to critical emergencies will be reduced, saving more lives and more property than was ever possible before… All for no additional cost.”
Due to the stations’ locations, many calls will still be answered by the same fire departments as before the Automatic Aid Agreement.
“It’s accomplished automatically through a shared dispatch system we’ve enjoyed for many years,” said Golder Ranch Fire Chief Randy Karrer. “This concept has proven to be extremely successful.”
While the roots of this program stretch back more than a decade, progress on the Automatic Aid Agreement really took off in fall 2018, when members of the Northwest Fire District, Golder Ranch Fire District and Tucson Fire Department gathered to discuss their response systems and identify similarities.
“What we found was really monumental in my opinion,” Karrer said. “We found we all did the same things. And we said to ourselves, ‘Why haven’t we done this before?’”
Tucson Fire Chief Chuck Ryan served as a major player in establishing the Automatic Aid Agreement. During his 26 years in the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department in Virginia, three fire departments came together to form the “Northern Virginia Emergency Response System.” Formed in the 1990s, this coalition grew to 14 fire departments operating without borders, and all with standardized gear and operating protocol.
“It’s not uncommon back there at all for border companies to respond more frequently with their partners who wear different patches or arrive in different colored trucks than they do with their own jurisdictions,” said Tucson Fire Chief Chuck Ryan. “And it works exceedingly well.”
Ryan says one of the main points of automatic aid is that it’s never done maturing and growing.
“It’s not just fire, rescue and EMS, it has to be public safety as the larger body. It has to include law enforcement entities. It has to include correctional entities. It has to expand as far as public works entities. Because that’s what we’re here for, is to serve the public best,” Ryan said. “It doesn’t matter what patch you wear on your arm. We should be delivering the best service to our citizens, to the populous as possible without regard to where street lines, or county or city boundaries are.”