Station Pride Articles

Turf Wars

You’re on scene of a large, type 3 structure, moderately involved in fire. You have no water supply established, and only 5 volunteers have arrived at the call. Clearly, you need back-up. The incident commander makes a call for mutual aid, but the call doesn’t go out to the closest fire department. Instead, the mutual aid is requested from a fire department much farther away with a much longer response time.

This selective mutual aid scenario plays out way more often than it should all across the fire service. Somehow, the practice is justified internally within the concerned department requesting the mutual aid, but is it really justifiable? The hard answer is NO, of course. Frimg_6303om the outside looking in, this practice is incredibly dangerous. From the inside looking out, things probably appear more complex.

Let’s take a look at why this happens, where the ethics reside, and what we can do to minimize the TRUE victims of Turf Wars, the residents, and taxpayers of your community.

To dig into the meat of this situation, we have to look at the moments that lead incident commanders to make such a, seemingly, irresponsible decision. Typically, there is some type of tension that has festered between two departments. Even more likely, it’s mutual tension that has been inadequately addressed and communicated between parties.  It’s likely that the majority of the moments that cause turf wars are situational misunderstandings or a member fefd_birchstaptfire_061508rom either department acted inappropriately at one point causing a rift.


One specific scenario I’m familiar with involved one fire department with an explorer (junior) program and another neighboring department without an explorer program. The Fire Chief of the department without juniors believed that children didn’t belong on their fire scenes. Instead of having a conversation Fire Chief to Fire Chief a cold shoulder was bred and a Turf War was born. Mutual aid was never requested for years even though they shared a tight border in a business district. After several years, the two Chief’s finally had a conversation over a simple cup of coffee and a muffin. The two chiefs were able to iron out the situation by finding a compromise. No explorers allowed on mutual aid runs to this one district. The departments have been good with each other ever since.

A very simple fix to a long-running Turf War and all it took was a cup of coffee, a muffin, and conversation.

It’s important to recognize that working together and supporting each other will always be more beneficial than cold-shouldering your neighbors. In MOST circumstances simple comusinghydraulictoolsmunication will resolve the majority of misunderstandings. But you have to arrange the opportunities for communication to occur. If you’re a Chief Officer or Captain of a volunteer fire department and you aren’t friends or at least on friendly terms with your neighboring fire department and their members, you’re doing something wrong, and a change of behavior is needed.

Set up a monthly or quarterly coffee chats, or meet-ups over breakfast with neighboring Chiefs and officers. Strangers are more likely to ignore each other than friends. On scene, people are more apt to understand each other when they believe that friendships are at stake.

Take every opportunity you can to get-to-know your neighbors. Most departments are reaching out farther and more often for simple house fires they should be able to handle themselves. Making friends will always be more beneficial than making enemies. Bottom-line, Talk it out. Find some common ground. Chances are, you’ll end up finding you had more in common than you originally thought. In a perfect world, you should be training together, at least, quarterly.



About Jon Marr (35 Articles)
Jon Marr is a 23-year fire service veteran originally from the Rhode Island area. He currently works as the Deputy Director of Emergency Management in the Wichita Metro Area. He was previously a Station/Battalion Chief at a United States Air Force Base in Southern Spain and a Battalion Chief with the U.S. Army Garrison Kwajalein Atoll in support of the Space and Missile Defense Command. Prior to Kwajalein, Jon spent 8 years as a Fire Captain for the Area Support Group Kuwait Fire & Emergency Services Department supporting the U.S. Army Central Command throughout Kuwait. He was also a Fire Lieutenant at Forward Operating Base Falcon in Southern Baghdad, as well as 3 years working for AMR Seattle. Jon is a certified Fire Officer IV, Fire Instructor III, Fire Inspector II, Incident Safety Officer, Haz-Mat Tech/IC, holds a Bachelors degree in Fire Administration from Waldorf College and has been an EMT for 22 years. He is currently a Graduate Student. Jon enjoys scuba diving, adventure travel, and watching his 12-year-old son see the world in wonder. Jon is a firm believer in maintaining a healthy balance of pride, tradition, and safety within the fire service.

6 Comments on Turf Wars

  1. Jeff Chandler // February 8, 2017 at 5:19 pm // Reply

    All too often this scenario is oversimplified. First, mutual aid must be mutual. If “mutual aid” only flows in one direction, it is simply one group of taxpayers subsidizing another group, to their detriment. In this era of increasing calls, decreasing budgets and decreasing volunteerism, it’s just not as easy as you portray it to be.
    Another huge consideration is the way you operate. We are an aggressive, interior attack municipal department. How do you integrate a neighbor who doesn’t go to roofs, hits it hard from the yard, uses a different incident management model and doesn’t believe in RIT? How about the neighbor who does not respond, period, during the day? What about the career firefighter who’s the chief officer of the neighboring department? These issues happen and they aren’t fixed with a muffin, regardless of how yummy it is. We all have a desire to serve, but we also have a duty, first, to those who pay our wage and buy the equipment.


  2. Robert J Houlihan // February 8, 2017 at 7:35 pm // Reply

    That is an old dangerous practice. Volunteers call their buddies and the paid guys call their union brothers. I m surprised that by now more have not been called on the carpet in lawsuits as the insurance companies are hiring more engineers and water flow experts.


  3. Communication is a step in the right direction and is often the first step. However, many times the issue is more deeply rooted into the fabric of organizations and not as simple of a fix as we may like to think it is, or think it should be.

    What’s at play in many of these scenarios is a cultural issue. We often times fail to admit to our shortfalls, and if we fail to admit the shortfalls, we cannot even begin to start to talk about the solutions to them.


  4. sometimes I think skipping over a dept is ok but only when its for logistics purpose we should never let disagreements like this get in the way. But a example where I think skiping is fine I live in NY and in my county depending on the incident some times one or two neighboring depts get skipped over even though they have worked together before and everyone gets along . its mainly done more after a couple neighboring depts have already been called. its mainly either because a special resource it needed that a that dept may not be able to provide or depts already on scene are involved in other duties or perhaps that decision to skip over is because its known that they will get the help from that dept at that time of day or night when called as I have heard some depts not be able to get enough people at certain times say during the day to even answer their own calls. or another reason would be so you dnt take all the resources from one large area where you basically are creating a hole where there is a lack of resouces is something else were to happen then if mutual aid is then need for that area you have to poss reach out far a increase response times for the first few mutual aid depts. we just need to be careful when skipping over depts and have your neighboring depts understand that at times you may skip over them and its not personal and let them know if they do it to try to spread out where you pull your help from that its ok. My dept will at times get called by a town two towns over usually for a FAST/ RIT team as they know we have the people trained for that and that they will always be able to get a response out of us and that dept currently dose not have a crew like that.


  5. This happened in NE PA for years. Companies would pick n choose their box alarms based on how they trained or whatever the “social reasons”. You’d hear the dispatches and say wth ????


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