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Revisions planned in firefighting backup policy

Spring Hill fire engines will roll out of their stations to back up neighboring fire districts only for "confirmed fires."

The new measure fire commissioners approved Wednesday is a scaled-back version of the mutual-aid policy that neighboring fire districts use.

The mutual-aid policy adopted last year came under fire when Spring Hill Fire Rescue Unit No. 3 backed up the South Central District on a fire call, which turned out to be a prank, in Masaryktown on March 28. It cost the district time in responding to a Spring Hill fire a little more than a mile from Station No. 3.

Leading the charge for mutual-aid revisions was Spring Hill fire Commissioner Bob Kanner, who said the policy was diluting Spring Hill's fire service.

"Spring Hill is our primary responsibility," Kanner said.

Kanner pitched a plan that would require a second call to 911 before neighboring districts would go running off to lend assistance.

There are exceptions. Dispatchers still would send backup if the call involves a fire at an occupied building. And dispatchers would have the leeway to send backup if the first call of a structure fire is deemed "reliable." They also would respond if a neighboring fire district asked for backup.

No matter the boundaries, the closest emergency station would still respond to calls of medical emergencies.

Kanner argued the old policy had Spring Hill trucks responding to faraway districts, even when backup wasn't called for.

It is "nonsense," he said, for outside districts to be sending backup every time someone smells smoke, he said.

The plan met with tentative approval at a meeting Tuesday attended by several county fire chiefs and county officials. On Wednesday, the Spring Hill Fire and Rescue Commission decided to move ahead with the new policy there. The county will consider the plan at a fire chiefs' meeting May 27.

Spring Hill Fire and Rescue Chief Michael Morgan, who lobbied to keep the old policy, called the new policy a "fair compromise."

Although neighboring districts came to back up Spring Hill as often as Spring Hill went out to aid its neighbors, some in Spring Hill were concerned the mutual-aid policy was costing Spring Hill money.

County Administrator Bonnie Dyga suggested that if there were any cost differential over 5 percent, those districts would be reimbursed "to make each other whole."

The suggestion was made, Dyga said, to alleviate concerns from some in Spring Hill that it was giving more than it was getting.

"I think everyone left feeling pretty good about it," Dyga said. "On the whole, the concept has been accepted."

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