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Mutual aid agreement means Hatch Road bridge work won’t hamper emergency response

The Hatch Road bridge over Latah Creek connects South Hill traffic to U.S. 195, shown Dec. 10, 2020. Construction work has closed the bridge through July.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
The Hatch Road bridge over Latah Creek connects South Hill traffic to U.S. 195, shown Dec. 10, 2020. Construction work has closed the bridge through July. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

The closure of the Hatch Road bridge near Highway 195 south of Spokane has forced residents to use a lengthy detour and impacted mail delivery, but residents should not notice any difference when they call 911 for medical help or if there’s a fire.

That’s due to an automatic mutual aid agreement that has been in place between District 8 and the Spokane Fire Department since 2015, District 8 Fire Chief Lonnie Rash said. That agreement means that whatever engine is closest will respond in an emergency, no matter which department it is from. The location of fire engines is always tracked, so the system knows where they are even when heading back to their station from a call.

“Technically, it doesn’t affect our response times,” Rash said. “They’ll still get the same type of response in the same amount of time.”

The part of District 8 affected by the bridge closure is mostly residents in the Ridge at Hangman gated community, which is located off Highway 195 south of Hatch Road. Crews would normally use Hatch Road to get to the highway, then turn south.

“A very small portion of our fire district is technically unreachable,” Rash said.

Calls for help in that area are usually answered by crews in District 8 Station 81 at 6117 S. Palouse Highway or Spokane City Fire Station 5 at 115 W. Eagle Ridge Blvd., whichever is closest. “They would go, regardless, because they’re the closest,” Rash said of crews at Station 5.

A small change was made in the county’s dispatch software to eliminate the bridge as an option for the fire department, which lets the automatic system know not to send calls to District 8 units that are blocked by the bridge work. “We don’t recognize that as a route,” Rash said. “That is not an option.”

Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said residents in the area should not notice any issues with responses in their neighborhood.

“Station 5 certainly is the closest to that area,” he said. “Oftentimes they were previously, anyway. We’re not expecting a significant change in response times or service levels.”

It doesn’t matter what department’s name is on the door of the engine, just that someone answers the call for help.

“The person needing help doesn’t have to wait for someone from a specific jurisdiction to come,” Schaeffer said.

Because of the placement of fire stations, there are certain areas that routinely get help from the neighboring fire crews.

“We’re actually closer to some areas for them and they’re closer to certain areas for us,” Rash said.

While the automatic aid agreement is particularly useful in this situation, Rash said it helps residents all the time. In December , District 8 crews went into the city of Spokane to assist on calls 106 times. In the same month, Spokane fire crews crossed into District 8 55 times.

“It’s the best service to our citizens, regardless of where it comes from,” he said.

Rash said he’s looking forward to when the bridge reopens toward the end of July because the improvements will include a new turn lane.

“It will help with congestion in that area and help our response times,” he said. “At any given time, there are 15 cars stacked up there trying to turn left or right.”

Schaeffer said he’s also looking forward to the project’s completion.

“It will help us immensely with our response times when the project is done,” he said.

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