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NEWS | Jan. 10, 2020

Mutual aid agreements provide essential support for JBSA, local fire emergency services

By Lori A. Bultman 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Joint Base San Antonio Fire Emergency Services currently consists of eight fires stations and 220 personnel who respond to more than 4,000 emergencies annually. While this may seem adequate, JBSA’s stations are located so far apart that sometimes assistance is needed more quickly that their JBSA reinforcements can arrive.

“As a large joint base, under normal circumstances, we could support our internal fire response operations, but since JBSA locations are geographically separated, the response times could be significant,” said Scott J. Ridenour, 502nd Air Base Wing deputy fire chief at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston. “Because of this, the 502nd Air Base Wing has established 17 mutual aid agreements with surrounding communities and has increased joint training efforts, as part of JBSA’s P4 (Public-to-Public, Public-to-Private) initiative. This has improved communications, strategies and tactics, and firefighter safety between agencies who provide support if a significant emergency occurs on JBSA, and vice versa.”

It is not often that JBSA requires assistance due to the base’s strict compliance with building codes and National Fire Protection Association standards, its fire suppression and alarm systems, and the outstanding JBSA fire prevention team, but on occasion it is required, Ridenour said.

Typically, JBSA FES personnel request assistance from mutual aid partners for structure fires, hazardous materials incidents or wildland fires.

“We respond to various incidents at JBSA-Camp Bullis fairly regularly,” said Darrell Dover, Shavano Park fire chief. “We typically respond to assist with brush fires and back up the EMS (Emergency Medical Services) provider to the post. I have only been the chief at Shavano Park for the last year, but in that short time, in the incidents that I have responded to with the firefighters from Bullis, you couldn't ask for a better group.”

When it is their turn to provide mutual aid, JBSA fire crews are ready to step up for their partners as well, like the City of Windcrest, which has a small, primarily volunteer fire department.

“The [JBSA-Fire Emergency Services-Fort Sam Houston] has been extremely helpful during mutual aid calls for structure fires as well as meeting training needs,” said Dan Kramer, fire chief and emergency management coordinator for Windcrest. “At the moment, we do not have an aerial apparatus in our city. When the need for a ladder truck is found, the closest one that typically responds is Universal City. Fort Sam is much closer, and they have been able to provide us with the apparatus when it is needed.”

Kramer is also thankful for the training opportunities JBSA has provided his department.

“They have offered the use of their burn facility for our firefighters to use for live burn training,” he said. “Being a primarily volunteer fire department, this is sometimes the only exposure to live fire our firefighters receive before meeting it in a real-world scenario.”

In turn, the JBSA fire crews appreciate the experience they gain responding to requests from local fire departments. Since becoming the JBSA-Randolph deputy fire chief in April 2019, Robert Ashley has had the goal of getting his responders more experience off base.

“I want to get them as much ‘real-world’ experience as possible,” Ashley said. “In our world, as federal firefighters, we typically do not have the quantity of significant calls per capita that our off-base counterparts have. However, we do exceed them in training opportunities, and we provide our community partners as much opportunity to train with us as possible. It increases the cohesiveness and safety of our teams when we all work together.

“As you can imagine, on a large scale incident, the more resources you have the better off you are,” Ashley added. “That applies whether we are helping a local community or they have come on base to help us.”

Ridenour echoed the sentiments.

“We cannot do our mission without having these partnerships in place,” he said. “Each fire department brings unique equipment, techniques, and capabilities to the fight. Through training, and meetings to discuss strategies, we develop the knowledge of what others have to offer, and when the time comes, we, and they, know who to call.

“I find satisfaction in knowing we get to put our training into play, we get to help our communities in a time of need, and hopefully we save those in need from injury or loss of personal property,” he said. “We know someone is suffering when we are called upon, and our goal is to reduce that suffering and save as much as we can.”

Helping each other in times of need is what the JBSA mutual aid agreements are all about.

“We are a small city, and to have the ability to utilize JBSA fire services in times of need is invaluable,” Dover said. “I have worked in the fire service in the San Antonio area for 25 years. In that time, I have had the pleasure of working and training with firefighters from most all of the bases associated with JBSA, and they are all second to none. We are all very fortunate to have this great working relationship.”