Recent fires in Rock County trigger MABAS system - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Recent fires in Rock County trigger MABAS system

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ROCK COUNTY (WKOW) -- A pair of fires in Rock County this week triggered the Mutual Aid Box Alarm, or MABAS, system.

Randall Pickering, an Edgerton firefighter who also serves as Vice President of MABAS Wisconsin, said the system utilizes pre-written protocols to make sure fire departments around the state can efficiently and effectively help out other first responders dealing with large scale emergencies.

Pickering said MABAS agreements cover 95 percent of Wisconsin's population.

"It's a pre-planned way of making sure you have all the resources necessary to respond to whatever mother nature throws your way," Pickering said.  

The MABAS system is based on index cards, officially dubbed "box cards," which are filled out by fire chiefs and EMS directors around the state. The cards detail which fire departments or EMS agencies dispatchers should call in certain, pre-planned scenarios.
For instance, Edgerton's MABAS cards call for Evansville, Stoughton and Footville to send engines to assist the Edgerton Fire Department in the event of a box alarm, structure fire in a rural area with no fire hydrants. The same card also instructs dispatchers to call for Stoughton, Fort Atkinson and Whitewater to send tender trucks.

Edgerton's box card detailing scenarios for structure fires in the city, where there are fire hydrants in all areas, calls for the City of Beloit, Fort Atkinson and Footville to send fire engines in the event of a box alarm. If the fire is more severe, officially dubbed a level two box alarm, Edgerton would also request engines from Cambridge, Brooklyn and Orfordville.

Pickering said the cards enable dispatchers to all at once contact the first responders needed at an emergency scene. He said such calls can take roughly 30 seconds. Pickering said a fire department trying to improvise on the fly and determine which agencies to summon while on scene would be wasting precious time.

"With MABAS... you're not standing out there not only trying to deal with the emergency itself, but also trying to figure out 'who do I call for help?'" Pickering said.

Pickering said the Edgerton Fire Department relied on MABAS for assistance in battling the fire at the Anchor Inn Monday morning. He said the mutual aid allowed firefighters to salvage the structure of the building and some of the owner's belongings inside, although damage was still estimated at $500-thousand to $1-million.

A MABAS call was also issued for a fatal house fire in Beloit Tuesday.

"We (fire departments) can assist each other when the worst possible scenario happens," said Beloit fire chief Brad Liggett.

Liggett said equally important to the extra firefighters and equipment MABAS provides at emergency scenes is the manpower summoned to back fill fire stations. The box cards provide instructions for which, neighboring agencies should staff empty fire stations when a municipality's full department is out on a major call.

"It's important to have those resources coming in so we can respond to other emergencies," Liggett said.

"Life is going to go on," Pickering said. "The world doesn't just stop because we have one, major fire."

Pickering said the MABAS system also relies on what he called an "80/20 system" to make sure it doesn't drain any one fire department's resources. He said no more than 20 percent of any one fire department is allowed to provide mutual aid at once.

"You don't want to strip your neighbor," he said. "You want to take a little bit from each neighbor instead of taking all those extra resources from one municipality."

"You don't want to strip any community in case they have another event to respond to," Pickering said.
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