This past year, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD) was often asked to help fight fires elsewhere in the state. And they went, without question. Every fire agency in California has signed on to a mutual aid agreement that says, in essence, if you need help, we’re there for you; and if we need help, you’ll be here for us.
It’s a bit more formal than that, as you might imagine, and there’s a structure that’s run by the State Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES). It is a system that is the envy of the nation.
If there’s a fire that is beyond the ability of the local fire agency the Incident Commander who is running the firefight radios the dispatch center and tells them how many more resources are needed. Dispatchers put out the call, first to other agencies in the county. After that, the state is divided into six regions, and the next call for help goes to the region. San Diego is in Region 6, which includes Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.
Every fire agency decides how many engines and people it can afford to send out of the area and still be able to properly protect the lives and property of its own jurisdiction. If the fire has exhausted the available resources of the region, firefighters from the neighboring regions are brought in. The cost of equipment and personnel is reimbursed to the sending agency.
The typical request is for a “strike team.” That’s five fire engines and a battalion chief. 21 people for a 14-day deployment. It’s not unusual that, at the end of those 14 days, another contingent of firefighters will be sent to replace them.
The fire agency that “owns” the fire might also ask for help from people with specific skills; like planning, or logistics. SDFD has a number of people with experience in wildland fires who make up incident management teams (IMT). As a wildland fire grows, managing the personnel and equipment becomes more complex and the IMT will come in to help with the logistic, fiscal, planning, operational, and safety issues related to the fire.
San Diego Fire-Rescue stands ready to protect the people and property of the City, and, when called upon, the county, region, state, and nation. With your support, the San Diego Fire Rescue Foundation invests in public safety resources to support the men and women who protect us all.