JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – Community partnership is an often occurrence, given that Joint Base Lewis-McChord has over 15 different mutual aid contracts with off-base organizations.
Two of those mutual aid contracts are between JBLM Fire and Emergency Services, under the Directorate of Emergency Services, and Thurston and Pierce counties. Just last week, JBLM firefighters were dispatched to the Washington Cold Storage facility, located in Puyallup, to assist with a 1,000-pound anhydrous ammonia cylinder that was on the verge of exploding and rupturing.
Successfully, they utilized a JBLM crash truck to dispense foam that helped put out what could have been a catastrophic fire incident.
Across JBLM, there are five fully-equipped fire stations. According to Kenneth Rhault, fire chief with JBLM FES, they receive on average 10 to 12 calls per month requesting assistance from both counties. The equipment JBLM has available to support off-base communities includes ladder trucks, crash trucks, basic life support and advanced life support engines, rescue trucks, brush trucks, water tender trucks and hazmat trucks.
Determining capability usually comes down to whether fire and emergency services can maintain the mission on JBLM while sending resources out and cost.
“With the mutual aid agreements, per Army regulations, for the first 24 to 48 hours cost associated from sending out our resources are covered by JBLM,” Rhault said. “After 48 hours, it becomes a multioperational incident and reimbursements are formulated.”
When supporting off-base emergencies, good communications are essential, however, JBLM and other fire stations sometimes use different equipment.
Usually, different entities try cross patching communications equipment with one another or simply swapping radios -- which doesn’t always work. Rhault and his team are responsible for establishing multiband radios on JBLM that allow them access to Thurston and Pierce counties’ radio channels.
With the multiband radios, the channels are transmitted automatically, which means Rhault could be sitting at his desk on JBLM and go onto each of the counties’ channels for information.
Rhault credits the success of the mutual aid partnerships to the people involved who have grown to be able to depend on one another. Together, they do monthly fire chief meetings, quarterly hazmat trainings and other combined trainings.
“If there were a gold standard on what Army partnerships with surrounding communities should look like, this is the place,” Rhault said. “We are all here for one cause, which is the communities that we serve. We’re all here to help each other, support each other and make sure we do the right thing for our communities.”
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- Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series on Joint Base Lewis-McChord's mutual aid agreements with our community neighbors.