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The Minnesota Intrastate Mutual Aid Plan: Help when help is needed most

Nov. 12, 2020

A fire at Northern Metal Recycling in Becker
This fire at Northern Metal Recycling in February was extinguished with the help of the Minnesota Intrastate Mutual Aid Plan.

Fires and emergencies aren’t polite or accommodating. Fires don’t wait for a convenient time to burn. Emergencies don’t stay small as a courtesy to small volunteer fire departments. And even large fire departments face incidents that overwhelm their resources. But that’s what the Minnesota Intrastate Mutual Aid Plan is for.

Simply put, intrastate mutual aid is a plan developed by the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association (MSFCA) that allows fire departments to help other fire departments within the state when they need it. If an incident takes place that a Minnesota fire department can’t handle with its own personnel and resources, they can request mutual aid from other communities. Such an incident could be a large fire, a train derailment, domestic terrorism, or even depleted resources caused by a COVID-19 outbreak among firefighters. Providing mutual aid is completely voluntary, and can be decided on a case-by-case basis. Fire departments are not expected to deplete their own resources to an unreasonable level.

The State Fire Marshal Division (SFMD) works with the MSFCA to implement the Intrastate Mutual Aid Plan. The MSFCA also provides a handbook for fire chiefs that helps them stay informed before a large incident happens. If a community needs mutual aid, they call the Minnesota duty officer. The duty officer then contacts SFMD staff who gather additional information and begin contacting regional coordinators. Those regional coordinators immediately begin getting the proper people and resources to the affected community. This helps take a few things off the fire department’s plate during a big incident, allowing them to focus on the incident itself knowing help is on the way.

The Minnesota Intrastate Mutual Aid Plan has been used twice in 2020. The first incident was the Northern Metal Recycling fire in Becker in February. A 60-foot pile of debris accidentally caught fire, causing a plume of smoke visible for miles. SFMD staff coordinated with state and local agencies to provide information to city leadership, among other tasks.

More recently, the St. Paul Fire Department asked for assistance from other departments during the civil unrest following George Floyd’s death at the end of May. SFMD staff collected logistical information, located 27 pieces of equipment and help coordinate 97 fire crews. Staff also helped St. Paul stage resources and build five task forces to respond to fires across the city.

If the events of this year have taught us anything, it’s that it’s important to have plans in place to deal with just about anything. The Minnesota Intrastate Mutual Aid plan provides a structured way to find assistance in chaotic times. The result? No matter where you live in Minnesota, no matter how big or small your local fire department is, you can rest assured that help will come when it is needed most.