Fire department depletes staff for other towns
By Scott Bellile
New London Police and Fire Commission members said New London Fire Department should scale back on assists through the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) in order to protect its own citizens.
At the commission’s meeting on Feb. 15, Fire Chief Mark Wilfuer said New London often finds itself called to send more than 20 percent of its approximately 30 firefighters to fires in surrounding communities.
MABAS requires a department not deplete its own staff by more than 20 percent in the event the department’s own town has a fire.
When New London Fire Department assisted at the downtown Hortonville building fire on Nov. 29, Wilfuer said New London sent 90 percent of its force and didn’t use one of its trucks on scene.
“It’s going to hit the fan if something happens here, and somebody’s house burns down and 80 percent of your department is in Hortonville,” committee member John Lee said.
Lee said he finds there are often more firefighters at rural fires than necessary and as a result people standing around waiting to help.
“It’s good to have the resources, but don’t overkill it,” Lee said.
In a process called “change of quarters,” a fire department out on a MABAS call is advised to call in available firefighters and vehicles from another community to cover that department. However, Wilfuer said a substitute fire department’s unfamiliarity with a town could create problems and he prefers not to do change of quarters.
“Anybody we call, they don’t know where our hydrants are … they don’t know where the streets are, they don’t know anything about the city. They don’t know about the hazards,” Wilfuer said.
A commanding officer on the scene of a fire refers to premade MABAS cards filled out by departments, Wilfuer said. He acknowledged a couple years ago New London filled its cards out in a way that doesn’t necessarily work for the department today.
Committee members said it’s good to help neighboring departments, especially if they lack certain equipment, but New London should be mindful of the 20 percent guideline and ask departments which specific vehicles they need before supplying them.