Ep 11: #3 How does our Policy Fit with Mutual Aid? - "10 Questions from the Mayor" Series
Oct 18, 2019
10 Questions for the Mayor to ask the Police and Fire Chief Series Question 3: How does our joint response policy fit with our mutual aid partners’ response policies?
Episode 11: #3 How does our Policy Fit with Mutual Aid? - "10 Questions from the Mayor" Series
10 Questions for the Mayor to ask the Police and Fire Chief Series
Question 3: "How does our joint response policy fit with our mutual aid partners’ response policies?"
Welcome to our next podcast installment. We are in the middle of our mini series about the tem questions a mayor, city manager, county administrator, can ask their police and fire chiefs together to try to help them understand where they are at a preparedness level for an active shooter event or a hostile event.
Today with me, I have Joe Ferrara, retired Fire Chief and Pete Kelting, Lieutenant with the Sheriff's Office. Thanks guys, for coming in today to talk about this next question. My name is Bill Godfrey, also a retired Fire Chief and we're up to our third question. How does our, meaning our agencies, how does our agency's joint response policy fit with our mutual aid partner's response policies? Guys, where do you want to pick this one apart?
You know Bill, across the country mutual aid is what agencies rely upon to be able to sustain resources in events or incidents where it takes multi jurisdiction, multi agencies to see to conclusion the event. Most jurisdictions abide by some sort of state statute or agreement ahead of time for mutual aid, but with saying that our policies and our training have to be able to support our response.
So it's important to know both formally and informally where we're able to respond efficiently together, where we've trained together, and that can come from relationships between and chief and chiefs, sheriffs and sheriffs, just to be able to support each other throughout an event early on. And if that event becomes more complex, the scale and complexity of it starts to drain resources that then more formal requests can be made through state requests or even from county to county through the state, the point of contacts. But we have to be able to see where each agency is comfortable with the training, where the liability falls on each other's actions and responses. So it's very important that both our mutual aid capability and our policy and training are all on the same page so that we're ready to respond if that event happens in our area.
Absolutely. Nobody ever does one of these things alone. Even the largest agencies, nobody ever does one alone. Joe, where's your opening on this one? What strikes you?
Well, I certainly agree with Pete and yourself that nobody does this alone and these things need to be linked, but I think you take the term mutual aid and as fire chiefs, and I'm sure police chiefs and sheriffs think the same thing, it's always that thought in the background that yeah, we're just going to request mutual aid and it's going to show up. I don't think it's that easy because I need to be 100% sure as an agency executive, especially if my county administrator or city manager asks me what we're going to do about mutual aid and what are we going to do about the policies. I need to know that that policy matches ours.
The only way to do that, and Pete, I think you mentioned it already, is those relationships need to be built in place. But to further that, I think we need to look to some level of regionalization and whether there be groups formed or whether there are task forces formed in a region that counties, cities, and even state agencies are training together. They're sitting down and looking at policies and even to the degree of when policies are developed, are they developing them jointly? Are they developing them as an agency?
And I hate to use the word silos with these, but that's what's happening. So you as an agency develops your policy and then you wait until you call dispatch and say hey, I need some mutual aid and then the next county north you comes and helps you out, but at that point do you as a chief really have any idea that that agency's policy is going to match yours? And what's the authority? Do those personnel, when they cross that geopolitical boundary, do they use their authority in the jurisdiction based on their policy? Is it based on my policy?
So those conversations have to occur and the only way to do that is for the respective fire chiefs, the respective police chiefs, the respective sheriffs to sit down well in advance of an incident. Don't wait for the incident for this to happen and decide, look, if it happens in your county, our personnel are going to be trained on your policy. If it happens in my county, our pers, my personnel are going to be trained on that policy.
Those decisions have to be made and if you don't have that answer for your manager at that time, I think it's going to be a little uncomfortable because if that basic answer of mutual aid can't be dealt with and what we're going to do with the policies, then I think if I were in the other seat as a city manager, I wouldn't have much confidence in those personnel across the desk from me if they couldn't tell me what they're going to do about mutual aid and policies.
I feel like we'll want to say amen in the church. Pete, you and Joe have both been around in the business a number of years, a lot of years, and you've seen a lot of challenges as have I. The agency that can't get along with the agency next door, you know, whether it's the same discipline or even different disciplines. What are some of the techniques that you've seen or maybe even used in your time to try to help break through some of that and get the dialogue open so that you can start working with your neighbors to move towards being on the same page?
You know Bill, I think post 9/11 we've come a long way. You hear that quite often that both law and fire discipline have established relationships that have made great strides in training and response, but we still have some work to do. It's all about relationships. It's about making sure that we're staying in touch with our partners in fire and our partners in EM and that we're a part of the trainings and the think groups and the working groups across the state and across the country at a local, regional, and national level so that we have those abilities to discuss things that are working great and discuss things that are more of a challenge, and we still talk about communication and inner operational radio networks.
We talk about being able to have equipment that responds in a certain fashion from a self agency owned asset to a regional asset. Those conversations in those work groups, in those summits, in everything that involves building relationships, have to continue. If we step back from that then we're just doing ourselves a disservice.
I can't emphasize enough, you got to be able to be comfortable in relationships, working on the road, being able to step into a fire scene or fire personnel step into a law enforcement scene without feeling like they're stepping on somebody's toes. There's no jurisdictional battles that there's ... Not the us versus them mentality. We've got to work together to be able to respond efficiently. So relationships is truly important.
Joe, same question for you.
Well, I hate to be basic on this, but I think it all boils down to, you know, in this day and age and the challenges that we have as leaders of organizations, if you can't get along with a jurisdiction that's either within your county or an adjacent county or an adjacent city, you've got some real problems in leadership. To quote probably one of the simplest and greatest human beings, let's put a sweater on and let's talk about Fred Rogers and won't you be my neighbor? I hate to be silly about that, but really it's that basic.
Well, you know, sometimes it is and look, let's acknowledge that we've all been around the block a few times and we've certainly made our share of mistakes as well as having our share of successes, and sometimes there are pretty good reasons about why you have difficulty getting along with the neighboring jurisdictions. They can be legitimate operational reasons, but that doesn't remove the need to work through that. That doesn't remove the need to be able to find a way forward to get on the same page.
And Joe, as you said, sometimes it is about ego and I hate to say it, but all too often that ego, that competition, tends to kind of get in our way. And it's worth noting, when you look at prior incidents there really has been a demonstrated need for having to work across boundaries. You know, the suspect that started this thing in our jurisdiction doesn't live here. His residence is in neighbor A's jurisdiction, we're transporting to hospitals in three or four different jurisdictions, and now we've got security problems, overload problems, providing for the families, the follow on stuff that goes with the events. You know, we've got to work through that.
But the other thought that occurs to me that I'd like you guys to weigh in on here is that we're talking about the ten questions that the mayor, the city manager, county administrator ought to be able to ask the police and fire chief, but isn't this one where when the police and fire chiefs, EMS chiefs, when they feel like they've done everything that they can to try to break through and they're not making forward progress, shouldn't they be able to privately sit down with their mayor, their city manager, or county administrator and say I need your help. I need you to work with leadership in this other jurisdiction because we're hung up here and we need to find a way forward. We need some assistance in getting through this beachhead so that we can make progress on this very important suspect.
Joe, what do you think? And Pete, I'll come to you with the same question.
Bill, I totally agree with you, but the the only sticking point there is from the perspective of that police or fire chief, if the city manager is asking the question about this mutual aid and there are all these barriers, as a city manager, let me just jump on the other side of the table. I'm going to ask why am I just hearing about these barriers now, Chief? Why haven't you come to me earlier? Yes, that fire chief, that police chief, should be astute enough to use their political partners, their elected officials. If jurisdiction A is having a problem with jurisdiction B, I hope that would have been resolved a long time ago and if we're waiting for when this question is asked, that's going to be an uncomfortable seat shifting moment for that chief officer, I believe.
Yeah. Pete, your viewpoint working with an elected sheriff, and I don't necessarily mean specifically where you're at now, but from your background and your years on the job you've had to deal with elected officials and across the different boundaries. How does that play out for you for one elected sheriff trying to help you break through the bottleneck with a another elected sheriff?
You know Bill, I think we look at our service to our citizens when we have these conversations about are we in line to respond the most efficient way with a successful outcome, when we're having these uncomfortable conversations about are we prepared, are we ready, is the policy correct, is mutual aid support what we're trying to do. We often say if a citizen was looking in the window or listening into our conversations right now, would they be excited about where we're at? Would they feel comfortable that our agency is ready to respond if it happened right now?
And so we have a saying in our agency, "Seek to understand before being understood." You've got to look at what each other is trying to accomplish and know that our end game, our end result, is service to our citizens. We have to be out there and be ready to stop the killing, stop the dying, in an active shooter incident and if we don't have these conversations and challenge these questions to our elected officials, to our county commissioners, our city commissioners, our city managers and so forth, where are we really in line to support our citizens?
I think that's a really good point and I have to admit, when I was on active duty I was driven to do the best job that I could and to provide that high quality of service to our citizens, but when it came to working with our partners, I wasn't always the most flexible, easy guy to work with. We had a lot of reasons for why we did things the way we did them and that didn't always make having conversations easy with our partners. And I look back on that and I think that there was a lot I could've learned there and probably reflecting on it could have done a lot differently.
Hey Joe, you got anything else that you want to wrap this up in a bow for us?
I think that, again, I'll go back to in today's day and age with the challenges we have as agencies, with the limited resources, we all get up every day when we go to our jobs and we want to do the very best for our citizens, but at the end of the day, if we're not getting together with our partners, with the other agencies that are going to respond to us, because let's face it, I don't care how big you are, whether you're New York City or whether you're a small rural town, you cannot operate in a vacuum. You cannot do it without your partner's help.
And I will reach out to my brethren, to my police chiefs, fire chiefs, sheriffs, if you're having those challenges today, you owe it to your citizenry to get over it, to work through it. There is nothing, nothing that should stop you from providing the best level of service and if you can't through those issues, then like I said, elevate it to your elected officials, your city/county managers, but be prepared for that to be an uncomfortable process if you have to do that. But chiefs, work through it. It's the right thing for your citizens.
And that's the bottom line. Hard stop. I think we're going to leave that one right there. Ladies and gentlemen who are listening, thank you very much for joining us. Please come back for our next in the series when we come back to our fourth question, how does each discipline, meaning law enforcement, fire, EMS, how does each discipline use ICS individually and jointly on a routine basis with each other on regular calls? So tune back in for that one. Stay safe and take care of each other.