The Palm Coast Fire Department is seeking a formal agreement of automatic mutual aid with both the Flagler County and the city of Flagler Beach fire departments.
Battalion Chief Kyle Berryhill, the city’s next fire chief, presented the agreement to the City Council on Sept. 13. Berryhill said that much of the mutual aid listed in the agreement is already in use; this would just formalize it.
“A lot of this agreement is taking some of the things that we’re doing today,” Berryhill said, “tweaking them just a little bit, but also putting a commitment on paper together.”
In a response to Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin, Berryhill said this is a continuation of collaborative efforts between the jurisdictions. It’s been 20 years since it was last considered.
“It’s kind of like an update on our phone,” Berryhill said. “This is the same, but better.”
The agreement irons out the details of the cooperation – like incident command at a scene – between jurisdictions, and commits to joint training sessions.
According to Berryhill, the city’s fire department can expect over 13,000 calls in fiscal year 2022, and the majority of those calls end up being medical response. Whenever the city responds to a medical call, he said, the Flagler County Fire Rescue respond with their ambulance.
“They live in three of our fire houses. They’re a wonderful partner, and they’re the transport agency for everything in Flagler County,” Berryhill said.
The agreement also ensures that the closest appropriate unit will respond to the call, regardless of jurisdiction. Berryhill said it is already common for units to respond across jurisdictions to help out at large-scale incidents.
The formal agreement defines the terms for automatic aid (automatic dispatch to certain areas or calls), mutual aid (requesting specific expertise, equipment or extra personnel) and closest appropriate unit response, which allows the nearest appropriate unit to respond to the call to reduce travel time.
“We recognize that our residents don’t use jurisdictional lines to determine where they have lunch ... or go to the gym,” Berryhill said. “So we want to make sure we don’t use them to determine whether or not we’ll respond to an emergency.”
Councilman Nick Klufas said he thought that this formal agreement provides a framework for a faster response time to the community.
“I think that if we polled our community, 100% of individuals — when they’re in need of help — would want the closest unit to be responding to them,” Klufas said.
Alfin joked that the Palm Coast Fire Department’s response time is second only to the city's stormwater personnel.
“Those four minutes that we heard about earlier are really critical,” Alfin said.
Berryhill also pointed out that the department's attorneys have viewed the agreement, and, from a liability standpoint, “essentially, we’re responsible for ourselves.” The automatic mutual aid agreement would be in place until it is either replaced, or a party gives at least 90 days of written notice that it does not want to continue participating.
Flagler County Fire Rescue Chief Michael Tucker will be presenting the same agreement to county commissioners, and Flagler Beach Fire Chief Bobby Pace will do the same for the Flagler Beach City Commission.
Berryhill said they would be bringing a resolution for the agreement at the next City Council meeting.