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Mutual aid, indeed

Published 9:57pm Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Mutual aid is an important policy that calls on the emergency-response agencies of neighboring communities to provide backup for one another, even across municipal lines. Fire departments and rescue squads work out mutual aid agreements that ensure they will have help from their neighbors in the case of fires, accidents or natural disasters that are either too big for one agency to handle or too far for the home agency to provide the quickest service.

Mutual aid saves lives and improves the service provided by both paid and volunteer fire departments and rescue squads, and it often helps build lasting friendships and working relationships between members of neighboring emergency services agencies, who might otherwise be mostly strangers to one another.

But the actions of members of the Chuckatuck Volunteer Fire Department in October went far beyond the normal call of mutual aid. That day, the Courtland Volunteer Fire Department called on the Suffolk firefighters for help with a fire in a peanut warehouse two counties away from here.

It was a long haul for the volunteers from Suffolk, but they responded quickly, sending a 3,000-gallon tanker that ferried water back and forth from a river to the warehouse for 24 hours before being relieved. Three crews of two rotated through the operation period, finally getting rest when crews from the Holland Volunteer Fire Department arrived to take over. The Whaleyville VFD also responded.

The fire turned out to be a tough one to extinguish, and Courtland — a small department with fewer manpower and physical resources — likely would have been overwhelmed without the help of its friends in Suffolk.

Though there might not be a signed mutual aid agreement between the departments, members of both can take comfort in the knowledge that they have each others’ backs. And that’s what mutual aid is all about.

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