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In a fire emergency, we demand quick, effective fire protection. Whether you live in a city, town or in unincorporated Maricopa County, whether you are served by a city or town fire department, a volunteer fire department, a fire district or Rural Metro through a municipal contract or a subscription, or even if you do not subscribe, you expect prompt, professional service. While many may not know how they are served, the expectation is the same.

Local governments are responsible for the safety of their residents. In most municipal budgets, fire protection is one of the costliest expenditures. With many fire protection models from which to choose and with hugely varying costs, deciding which fire protection model is best for a municipality is a major decision with crucial safety implications and long-term financial repercussions.

When discussing fire protection, the difference between Mutual Aid and Automatic Aid is often asked.

In a Mutual Aid model, typically, fire departments come to one another’s aid in time of crisis and cross jurisdictional boundaries when the request is communicated to the dispatch center of the fire department in need of mutual aid. In some cases, approval may need to be sought from a commanding officer. Mutual aid is meant for a time of crisis and is not meant to be used for daily operations.

In an Automatic Aid model, aid is automatically dispatched from the closest fire equipment regardless of jurisdictional boundaries through a centralized dispatcher. Automatic Aid is a regional partnership, relied upon for daily operations. Neighboring communities work together to plan fire station locations, share specialized resources, such as hazardous material response, and water and mountain rescues.

Moving from Mutual Aid to Automatic Aid requires the procurement of common communication equipment, common training, prescribed staffing levels and additional firefighting equipment. The costs are significant. Before moving to an Automatic Aid model, how to fund such a move and striking a balance between safety and cost must be settled. In Carefree, moving from a Mutual Aid model, that has served us well, to an Automatic Aid model, could cost the Town twice that of our current model. In Carefree, we own our own fire station and fire truck and have engaged with Rural Metro in a master fire service contract for the past 15 years.

With the threat of wildfires seemingly a permanent reality, each municipality must weigh alternatives in terms of cost, service and how neighboring communities provide service to their residents. One size does not fit all. The Town of Carefree is embarking upon this investigation and discussion.

There has never been a better time to ask, how does my community manage fire service?

Written By

Vice Mayor, Town of Carefree

John Crane is Vice Mayor of the Town of Carefree. Learn more about Carefree:; 480.488.3845


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