Programs
Cooperative Emergency Response Program – Fire

Generally unknown about the fire service is that volunteer fire departments have long been accustomed to cooperation and working together.  This is evidenced by the common occurrence of multiple alarm, multiple department responses to an emergency.  In those situations, the simple need to properly position several pieces of large equipment, lay multiple hose lines and effectively utilize personnel from different departments dictates that advance understanding of command and control procedures at a fire be known and followed.  Nonetheless, even with this advantage at the fire scene, prior attempts to create a working group in the SHACOG service area to pursue common training and administrative goals met with only marginal success.  Then, after witnessing the enhanced cooperation and communication achieved through SHACOG among and between police chiefs and their departments, a few fire chiefs approached the Executive Director with a request to the explore the possibility of forming a companion fire program under the SHACOG umbrella.

In response, a series of  meetings for interested fire chiefs was convened to evaluate options that would most effectively address their needs.  They quickly recognized that the structure missing in their prior efforts to organize a group program was present in SHACOG.  The length of SHACOG’s existence, its positive history with other programs, not the least of which was its success with the Police Chiefs Advisory Committee, and the fact that it could incorporate all of the fire departments within its service area into a single effort, led to the desire of the fire chiefs to officially include themselves within the SHACOG family.  Upon their request, the Board of Directors formalized that relationship by establishing the Fire Chiefs Advisory Committee as a standing committee of SHACOG in May 2005.  In so doing, the committee was tasked with providing advice and guidance to the Board of Directors and Executive Director concerning fire-related public safety matters and with the responsibility for pursuing projects and programs that would enhance fire fighting capabilities.

Upon organizing, the first item to be addressed was a standard mutual aid agreement.  Although common among neighboring departments, a single agreement was developed for, and approved by, all SHACOG fire departments.  Next was consideration of joint purchasing for items like bunker gear and radios.  An example of success with this effort is the now annual release of a joint bid for hose, ladder and pump testing.  Identification of possible funding support available to individual fire departments is routinely shared.  Size and group cohesiveness has permitted influence and standardization of communication protocols within the county dispatch system.  Training has also emerged as a paramount pursuit with not only inter-departmental opportunities being made available, but also the evolution of an annual training event for all SHACOG fire departments.  Most significant is the establishment of a training cadre that allows local training of new recruits, thereby eliminating the need to travel across the county to attend Firefighting Essentials classes.

A program nurtured and evaluated through monthly meetings of the fire chiefs, with all administrative support being provided by SHACOG, their increasing cooperation identified the need for additional skills not present in the individual departments, especially for rescue incidents requiring specialized capabilities.  Recognition of this void led to the Fire Chiefs formation of the Technical Rescue Team (TRT) in April 2008.  The team is designed to address incidents such as confined space rescue, rope rescue, high angle rescue, trench rescue and water rescue.  In addition to having to meet minimum qualifications for membership, team members also undergo routine, continuous training in their specialties and are certified in each.  Two team physicians - a team Medical Director and a field response Rescue Physician - provide medical training and on-site support.  These extensive capabilities were recognized by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Pennsylvania Health Services Council when the TRT received the Rescue Service of the Year Award in 2015.

Member municipalities provide the financial resources needed by the fire chiefs to manage this Cooperative Emergency Response Program - Fire for their 40 fire departments through formula based annual payments.  The fire chiefs, in turn, make an annual sub-allocation to the TRT.  Supplementing this annual commitment has been the successful pursuit of grant support.  Most significant, however, is the commitment of time by the volunteer personnel to this SHACOG program which is in addition to the mandates of their individual departments.

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