A fire at the residence of Helen Edwards at 168 Lower Helton Road just outside the Alexandria city limits Thursday morning has apparently sparked some controversy and misunderstanding.
Central dispatch received the fire call that morning at 9:08 a.m. and dispatched county fire fighters to the scene. The county fire department, while on the scene, later requested mutual aid assistance from members of the Alexandria Volunteer Fire Department and they promptly responded. But since the location of the fire was so close to the city limits, some have questioned why the Alexandria Fire Department was not dispatched to the scene much sooner, especially when Alexandria Police Chief Mark Collins had radioed a request that the city firefighters be sent immediately. The fire apparently started from the utility room and caused extensive damage to a portion of the home.
Donny Green, DeKalb County Fire Chief, addressed the issue during the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night.
In a prepared statement released to WJLE, Chief Green said that he had spoken with Alexandria Mayor Ria Baker and primarily, there is a misunderstanding among some that the City of Alexandria Fire Department refused to respond to this call. Chief Green says this simply isn't the case. This address is not located in the city limits of Alexandria. Subsequently, proper dispatch protocol was followed by DeKalb County 911 Dispatchers as they dispatched DeKalb County Fire Department to this address. I think the issues of concern have mostly been due to the fact that this address is located near the boundary of the Alexandria city limits and that the City of Alexandria Fire Department was not initially dispatched to this incident.
Chief Green stated that under Tennessee State Law (PUBLIC ACTS, 2004 1 CHAPTER NO. 743), mutual aid assistance can be requested when an agency having jurisdiction determines that additional outside resources are needed to handle the emergency. Nothing in this mutual aid law allows an outside agency to initially be dispatched outside its jurisdiction. The only agreement that allows for initial dispatch of an agency outside its jurisdictional boundary is a formal automatic aid agreement or an inter-local agreement between the two agencies. The City of Alexandria and DeKalb County do not have such agreements in place.
In this particular incident, DeKalb County Fire Department's units were dispatched from Liberty, Temperance Hall, and the Main stations. Upon arrival of our first unit, the DeKalb County Fire Incident Commander conducted a scene size-up and requested mutual aid assistance from the City of Alexandria Fire Department. Alexandria Fire Department was dispatched and arrived on the scene at 9:36 a.m., 25 minutes from the time the fire was initially reported to 911.
According to Chief Green, the sensitive issues of jurisdictional boundaries and applications of mutual aid responses are not new issues in the fire service. In his 25 years in the fire service, he has seen this issue come to light in dealing with incidents across county lines, city limits, and other jurisdictional boundaries. The bottom line is that the mutual aid process must be followed due to legal and liability issues. "There are countless instances where one agency might be closer to an incident than the agency having jurisdictional authority. An example of this would be the DeKalb County High School. We have a station in the county that is located closer to the school than the City of Smithville Fire Department. However, with the school being located in the city limits of Smithville, DeKalb County Fire Department may only respond when requested by the Smithville Fire Department if they request additional and specific resources using the prescribed mutual aid process. We have to follow procedures and the laws," stated Green.
When asked about the possibility of entering into an automatic aid agreement with the City of Alexandria, Chief Green stated that this was certainly a plan that should be explored by the Alexandria City Council and the DeKalb County Commission, in consultation with each governing bodies' attorneys.