Five local fire departments will sign an automatic aid agreement today, meaning that the closest available crews will respond to fires and emergencies, regardless of jurisdiction boundaries. The combined coverage area stretches from Daniel Island to Kiawah Island and from Ladson Road to peninsular Charleston.

The governing bodies of the City of Charleston, the City of North Charleston, the St. Andrew’s Public Service District, the James Island Public Service District, and the St. John’s Fire District spent years hammering out the details of this agreement, developing compatible procedures so that their fire departments can work together efficiently. The five departments have a total of about 800 firefighters, according to a press release from the City of North Charleston.

“This agreement for automatic aid significantly improves our capability to handle major emergencies as well as multiple, simultaneous incidents,” says North Charleston Fire Chief Greg Bulanow. “I credit our partner departments with working through many challenges to achieve this agreement that provides safer and more effective service to the citizens we serve.”

Automatic aid agreements have existed in other municipalities for decades. In Nevada, the Reno Fire Department and the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District entered a similar arrangement in 1991, and they eventually formed a merged fire department. Recently, that merged department broke up, and while some officials are pushing for a renewal of the automatic aid agreement, disagreements have arisen over emergency response in areas where tax revenues are not paying for fire department service.

In the case of the Charleston-area agreement, each department will be responsible for the costs of its own equipment and crews, with the possible exception of hazardous material costs. Each fire department will give assistance on an “as-available” basis and will not be required to help in neighboring jurisdictions “if the circumstances are such that safety in one area of service will be diminished by providing assistance,” according to the press release.

Officials from the five governments will sign the Interlocal Agreement for Automatic Aid and Response in a ceremony at the American LaFrance Fire Museum and Educational Center (4975 Centre Point Drive, North Charleston) at 2:30 p.m. today.

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