The Spokane Valley Fire Department and Spokane County Fire District 8 now have an automatic aid agreement, meaning the closest crew will respond to an incident, no matter which side of the boundary it’s on.
“It’s better for the customer and it’s better for the department,” said Spokane Valley Chief Bryan Collins.
The agreement went into effect Thursday, after a year of planning and about four years of talks.
Collins said new technology has enabled the two departments to collaborate in ways they weren’t able to before. They now have an automatic vehicle locator system that tells dispatchers where each vehicle is in real time. They also updated their computer-aided dispatch system a year ago.
The changes should mean quicker response times. For instance, a resident in the Ponderosa neighborhood could get help from a truck from the nearby Station 84 in District 8 instead of waiting for Valley crews to arrive.
Collins said the agreement also means the two departments can share training duties instead of maintaining and staffing separate training centers.
Fire District 8’s Chief Tony Nielsen said his customers don’t care what the sign says on the side of the truck, they just care they will receive the help they need.
“I’m embarrassed to say it’s groundbreaking for this region,” Nielsen said, but the idea is nothing new to him. While he attended the National Fire Academy, he did a research project about automatic aid agreements.
Departments in larger metropolitan areas have been responding like this for years, but it’s the first agreement of its kind in the area.
To prepare, Valley and District 8 crews have been training with each other, becoming familiar with equipment and personnel.
Spokane Valley Deputy Chief Andy Hail said part of the training was encouraging commanders to take the lead if they are first to arrive at a scene, whether it is within their boundary or not. Whoever gets there first will continue with the command until it is resolved.
“We’re breaking down those barriers,” Hail said.
Both Hail and Collins have worked in departments with automatic aid agreements before; Hail in King County and Collins in the San Francisco area.
“We’ve got the experience,” Hail said.