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Butler County fire departments erasing borders to better their response times

Butler county’s two largest townships — Liberty and West Chester — have forged an automatic mutual aid agreement to ensure crews get on every fire scene as quickly as possible.

“Our residents should not care what it says on the side of the truck, whether it says West Chester, Liberty, Sharonville, nor should they care what color the truck is,” West Chester Twp. Fire Chief Rick Prinz said. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a West Chester truck to provide the fastest, most efficient emergency service. The emergency service is what counts because we know that a structure fire typically doubles in size every minute it burns.”

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Liberty Twp. Fire Chief Ethan Klussman said fire departments universally have mutual aid agreements, but with the “automatic” response, for example, a fire at Liberty Center would trigger first responses from both jurisdictions, instead of one having to call for the help.

So it is conceivable a West Chester truck could arrive first to a fire in Liberty Twp. and visa versa.

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“Let’s say there is a fire at Liberty Center in one of the apartments. (Liberty Twp.) would automatically get sent,” Klussman said. “With this agreement, that would automatically put (West Chester Twp.) on that first alarm assignment. They would automatically go simultaneously with (Liberty Twp.).”

The automatic agreements only apply to structure fires, not EMS runs. The agreement spells out that no money will change hands between the communities for providing these services — fire calls are paid out of taxes; EMS runs are typically paid by insurance companies — and there will be no liability or breach of contract asserted if assistance is “denied, delayed, inadequate or subsequently recalled.”

Klussman said the jurisdictions do provide mutual aid in emergency medical situations on occasion but typically each can handle EMS runs on their own.

“On a busy day we have our medics and our engines, we can cover our township very well without that help,” he said. “But when it comes to fire calls, think about how many people and apparatus it takes to cover that fire call adequately. By asking them to come in and provide some of that manpower just provides that much better of a service.”

Since 2013 West Chester has called for support from other fire companies on 547 calls and responded to their neighbors in other jurisdictions on 628 calls.

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Klussman said many times fire departments will get mutual aid requests but they are waved off before they reach the scene. When he came on board last fall he began keeping track of these statistics. So far this year they have been requested 48 times but were cancelled on 25 of those calls.

The two jurisdictions are not confining this effort just to their joint border, but are reaching out to every jurisdiction that touches them.

Prinz said he already has an agreement in hand with the city of Springdale and he plans to have trustees vote on it and the Liberty Twp. deal next week.

All of the fire departments in the county belong to the Butler County Fire Chiefs Association, the organization that pools resources on a number of fronts to save tax dollars and improve efficiency. BCFCA President John Detherage, Oxford’s fire chief, said the organization hasn’t taken this issue up collectively but rather leaves it to individual jurisdictions to make the call.

He said for years his city and Milford Twp. have had an automatic response agreement and he sees more of these arrangements coming, especially on the west side of the county.

“I don’t think it’s something that’s going to happen countywide just because of the difference in the communities throughout the county,” he said. “But I could see it happening more as we move on into the future, because a lot of the volunteer fire departments are having trouble getting people.”

Creating this new protocol isn’t just about the mutual agreements however, the various dispatch centers — the county, Fairfield, Middletown and West Chester — also need to be involved. Capt. Matt Franke, who is in charge of the county’s 911 system, said they already have these protocols set up in other parts of the county so they will just need the townships’ specifications to set it up and get it operational. They even have protocols on their system where one jurisdiction covers a single cul-de-sac that lies within another jurisdiction.

But forging agreements like these are not always as easy as they might sound. The county and several jurisdictions like Liberty and West Chester townships also share borders with Warren County and some of its jurisdictions like Mason and Deerfield Twp.

Prinz said he has reached out to Mason and Deerfield Twp. already but they haven’t yet sealed a deal. Years ago it took an extraordinary feat of political peace-making — after decades of annexation angst — for those two entities to come to their own automatic mutual aid agreement.

In 2009, after two years of talks and some long silences Deerfield and Mason instructed the Warren County dispatch center to change protocols so Deerfield’s Station 58 in Kings Mills would be called out first to emergencies within the city limits along Kings Mills Road and the Intestate 71 interchange. The two jurisdictions then began looking for other areas where the township and city limits converge, to see if a protocol switch made sense.

Mason City Manager Eric Hansen said they are open to reciprocal agreements with Butler County communities — they already have joint economic development agreements here —but it isn’t necessarily a priority.

“From Mason’s perspective the urgency isn’t quite there as much,” he said. “Between West Chester and Mason and Liberty and Mason we share borders but it’s a line, it’s Butler Warren Road, whereas with Deerfield and Mason there were pockets where the lines weren’t as neat. So you had pockets where mutual aid made sense. Here that’s not as obvious.”

Monroe also shares borders both in Butler and Warren. Fire Chief John Centers said while he hasn’t yet begun the process of getting his community on board, the initiative is important.

“At the end of the day, baring all the legal language and all the geographical lines we have, you have to do your best to do what’s best for the people who are making these 911 calls,” Centers said. “We have to have measures in place to make sure they are getting the level of safety that is appropriate for their emergency there, as quickly as possible.”

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