No firefighter is an island: Mutual aid serves Nevada County | TheUnion.com
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No firefighter is an island: Mutual aid serves Nevada County

(Editor’s note: The following is the sixth in a series of profiles on our local law and fire protection agencies that will publish each week through Feb. 27, when the Nevada County Law Enforcement and Fire Protection Council hosts its annual Red Light Ball at the Nevada County Fairgrounds. That event raised more than $20,000 for local agencies last year. For ticket information, contact Bill Drown at 268-9015.)

Helping your neighbor is the most basic goal of emergency services.

But what happens when your neighbor’s problem exceeds the resources available to the local entity charged with dealing with the problem?



The concept of mutual aid is the means by which an agency can request help from neighboring agencies when the scope of an incident exceeds the agency’s abilities or means.

A local fire department, with three or four engines and staffed mostly by volunteers, will need help to handle a large structure fire or even a small brush fire. Even full-time, staffed departments in the county ask for help to handle multi-car accidents, and almost every type of fire or hazard, when it becomes obvious they cannot safely handle the incident alone.




In Nevada County, some form of mutual aid is used nearly every day among the local fire departments.

In some cases, the aid is pre-planned; for instance, when an incident occurs in an area of a fire department’s jurisdiction that is actually closer to another department’s station. This is known as automatic aid.

In other cases, the aid is by request of the agency handling the incident, which is mutual aid.

Nevada County has seen several incidents in which resources from outside of the county, and even from outside of the state, have been called for help: Mutual aid can include local, state and federal resources from fire, law enforcement and medical agencies.

The 49er Fire in 1988 is an example of a major mobilization of resources from all over the country. The situation expanded and changed so rapidly that regional, state and federal resources were requested in the first 20 minutes of the fire.

Within the first hour of the 49er Fire, more than 40 engines, several Nevada County volunteer fire departments, Tahoe National Forest fire crews, 11 bulldozers, six hand-crews, four water tenders, one air attack, eight air tankers, four helicopters and a fire management team had been ordered.

Neighbor to neighbor

The mutual aid system works so well because of reciprocity. Agencies provide assistance to each other because they know that, when they have a large-scale incident, other agencies will come to their assistance when requested.

Nearly every summer, Nevada County provides resources in mutual aid responses all over the state to fires and other emergencies.

Just last summer, eight Nevada County fire departments responded with 12 pieces of apparatus to assist Placer County Fire and the state Calfire agency with the 49 Fire in Auburn.

Although each fire agency has a jurisdiction that it serves, the boundaries disappear in the face of major emergencies, and assistance can come from as close as a neighboring department or a neighboring county, or from as far as several states away.

Communications Operator Jennifer Hutchins works for Calfire at the Grass Valley Emergency Command Center.


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