Cd’A, Department of Lands reinstate firefighting mutual aid agreement

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LOREN BENOIT/Press As the cities grow and encroach on forest and agricultural land, like this northwest Coeur d’Alene neighborhood, mutual aid firefighting agreements detailing liability and payment plans between the city and Idaho Department of Lands are becoming more necessary.

COEUR d’ALENE — When the city of Coeur d’Alene and the state lands department drafted an agreement to help each other in times of fire, it was the first time an Idaho municipality and the Idaho Department of Lands established a mutual aid agreement.

Since that time 15 years ago, IDL has reached out to other cities with similar proposals.

“It’s kind of the expectation,” said Scott Hayes, IDL fire warden in Coeur d’Alene.

After a three-year hiatus, however, in which the city and IDL let their agreement lapse, city council members moved Tuesday to reinstate the mutual aid agreement for fire fighting efforts between the city fire department and IDL wildland firefighters.

“One of the things this contract does, is when resources are needed, this allows those resources to be made available,” council member Kiki Miller said.

A Tubbs Hill fire several years ago was doused with water dumped from a Idaho Department of Lands-contracted helicopter, a resource otherwise unavailable to the city.

“Having a partnership like that is really beneficial,” Miller said.

Mutual aid agreements between cities and wildland firefighters are becoming important as urban areas throughout the state encroach on once rural agricultural and forest land. State wildland firefighters are trained to work in those environments, while residential fires are the bailiwick of city crews.

“They take the trees and give us the houses,” deputy fire chief Tom Greif said.

But the agreement is more complex and covers issues such as liability and who foots the bill. The agreement’s small print was one of the reasons the city and state contract lapsed, but those issues have since been resolved.

Coeur d’Alene Fire Chief Kenny Gabriel, who pushed for the original agreement more than a decade ago, said the contract also allows cross training between the two departments.

“We rely on them for a lot of training,” Gabriel said.

The city provides IDL with first aid and medical training while IDL reciprocates with wildland engine training, and by teaching city firefighters how to safely fell trees.

Although the old agreement between the two entities existed on paper, many details were based on a handshake, Gabriel said.

“We had kind of an unwritten agreement,” Gabriel said.

The latest agreement includes specifics.

“It’s better for everyone, so we know what to expect.”

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