AID to Local Jurisdictions - Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Mutual Aid?

Mutual Aid is a voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services for mutual benefit.  In Mutual Aid, the fire departments have basically agreed to give each other assistance across jurisdictional boundaries during incidents where the local department’s resources are insufficient. This occurs only if the requested agencies have enough resources to help others when needed. Mutual Aid is voluntary and may not occur if the requested agencies are dealing with incidents of their own and/or do not have enough equipment or firefighters to share at the time. Fire agencies can charge other jurisdictions its actual costs for the provision of Mutual Aid. Requests for mutual aid can be made by telephone, intercom, or CAD-to-CAD (if applicable).

What is an Automatic Aid?

Automatic Aid is a form of Mutual Aid, usually between contiguous border agencies that have agreed to send pre-identified resources. It is a standing agreement for cooperative emergency management on a continuing basis, generally ensuring that resources are always dispatched from the nearest fire station, regardless of which side of the jurisdictional boundary the incident is on. Requests for Automatic Aid can be made by telephone, intercom, or CAD-to-CAD (if applicable).

Is Automatic Aid possible between OCFA and the Placentia Fire and Life Safety Department (PFLSD)?

Automatic Aid is not possible. Placentia’s Fire and EMS delivery model(s) is a lesser level of service and Placentia will not be able to provide the number or type of reciprocal (like services) resources as OCFA.  Absent resource reciprocity, OCFA can only provide assistance via mutual aid.

Is resource exchange delayed if assistance is provided via mutual aid and not provided via automatic aid?

No. The provision of mutual aid is not a lesser, nor is it a slower level of service than automatic aid.

What is meant by “reciprocity”?  

In the context of mutual or automatic aid, reciprocity of resource exchange is the basis for determining which type of aid may be voluntarily provided to a requestor. Reciprocity has nothing to do with equity or balance in the number of incident resource exchange between jurisdictions. Emergency aid that is not reciprocal either due to the type or number of resources being requested, or the type of resource needs the requesting agency is unable to reciprocally provide (i.e. helicopters, handcrews, bulldozers, etc.) the assisting agency, is considered Mutual Aid.

For example, beginning July 1, Placentia will not have the number of resources or firefighters available on duty each day to safely respond to and suppress a residential room and contents, single-family dwelling (less than 2,000 sq. ft.) structure fire without needing significant resource assistance from contiguous border jurisdictions (Yorba Linda, Anaheim, Fullerton & Brea). These neighboring jurisdictions will have to subsidize the Placentia FLSD with resources that Placentia FLSD will not be able to provide (reciprocate) in return.  Beginning July 1, Placentia FLSD will be the only fire agency in Orange County that cannot reciprocate type and number of resources necessary to be considered reciprocal as understood by fire agencies statewide.

Concerning emergency medical response, the City of Placentia has hired a private for-profit ambulance company to provide non-fire-based advanced life support (ALS) services within its city. The City of Placentia has determined that they cannot afford to provide their citizens the higher level of ALS services that OCFA currently provides the citizens of Yorba Linda. The City of Placentia’s decision to deliver to its citizens a lesser level of ALS services than anywhere else in Orange County is their choice. However, as a result, Placentia’s ALS services cannot be considered “reciprocal”. The capabilities and staffing of a fire-based ALS paramedic response significantly exceeds that of a two single-role private paramedic ambulance response.  

Why are mutual aid services only available on a case-by-case basis?

OCFA may elect not to respond to a request for Mutual Aid assistance if a response may negatively affect their ability to provide adequate fire, EMS, or all-hazards emergency protection to the residents, visitors and businesses within the City of Yorba Linda.

Are CAD-to-CAD capabilities required to exchange resources via automatic or mutual aid?

No. There is no correlation between the type of aid provided and the agencies that exchange resources between computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems. Some agencies have agreed to “automated” automatic aid. Automated automatic aid removes human intervention from the resource deployment decision-making. This lack of human intervention can cause an entire neighboring jurisdiction like the City of Yorba Linda to be stripped of its resources leaving Yorba Linda dangerously exposed if an emergency were to occur within its own city. Resource exchange via CAD-to-CAD requests that are not “automated” are also common. This allows the receiving communications center to quickly receive and then quickly decide which resources to assign to assist the requesting agency without negatively affecting a contiguous border jurisdiction. Automated CAD-to-CAD dispatching is not demonstrably faster than direct requests for assistance made via CAD-to-CAD. The third and most common method in California and the U.S. is communications centers calling one another by phone when mutual or automatic aid is necessary to mitigate an emergency.

What is Assistance-by-Hire (ABH)?

There is an array of agreements at various levels of government and between agencies that allow for and provide assistance during times of emergencies. These agreements may provide assistance in the form of Mutual Aid, where assistance will be paid for (reimbursed) by the user. Fire agencies in California are able to charge one another for actual cost for the provision of Mutual Aid.

Placentia is not the only city in California that must rely upon its neighboring jurisdictions to provide emergency services that they themselves have chosen to no longer provide. It is expected that OCFA and other fire agencies’ engine and truck companies will be less available to serve their own communities due to now having to respond to emergencies in Placentia at a far greater rate than ever before.

When neighboring jurisdictions have to subsidize a city that by choice has reduced service levels, then emergency services provided by these jurisdictions come at a cost. Usually, that cost is in the form of an annual flat fee or in the form of an “assistance-by-hire” (ABH) rate. Neighboring jurisdictions must recoup the actual cost of their taxpayer funded resources that were used to subsidize a city needing emergency services they were unable to provide themselves. It is not a fair expectation that neighboring jurisdictions’ taxpayers should shoulder the costs of providing services that the requesting city once provided for themselves but have chosen to reduce.

Do any other California fire departments charge another fire department as a result of an agency not being able to afford the level of service desired?

Yes. As an example, the County of Monterey provides and charges for fire and EMS services to the City of Salinas. The same occurs between the City of Oakland and the City of Emeryville. Both the City of Salinas and the City of Emeryville have chosen to pay for the other fire agency services on an annual flat fee basis.

By way of background, there are no mandatory federal or state regulations directing the level of fire service response times and outcomes. The level of service and resultant costs is a local community choice in the United States. The body of regulations on the fire service provides that if fire services are provided, they must be done with the safety of the firefighters and citizens in mind. There is a constructive tension between the desired level of fire services and the level that can actually be funded. Thus, some communities like Placentia elect to fund other priorities at the expense of the level of fire and EMS services they may desire.  

What is the City of Placentia’s firefighter-to-citizen per capita assuming a daily staffing of seven (7) career firefighters?

According to the State of California Department of Finance website, the City of Placentia’s population is estimated at 51,494 as of January 2020. Given that Placentia will have a daily staffing of seven* career firefighters as of July 1, 2020, the daily staffing firefighter per capita for Placentia will be 1.36 per every 10,000 residents. Comparable Orange County cities of similar population size with a city Fire Department have a daily staffing firefighter per capita ranging from 2.33 to 3.29.

City/ CouncilNo. of StationsPopulations*Daily Staffing**Firefighters Per 10,000
Placentia251,49471.36
Anaheim11357,325601.68
Fullerton6141,86321.69
Huntington Beach8201,281412.04
Costa Mesa6114,778242.09
Fountain Valley255,878132.33
La Habra***463,371152.37
Orange8140,065352.50
Brea445,629153.29
Newport Beach885,780364.20
Laguna Beach422,343125.37


*Population figures based on State of California Department of Finance website as of May 2020.

**Daily staffing figures based on city websites, annual plans, statistical information, staff reports, and budget documents.

***Fire Services provided by Los Angeles County Fire.

Is there any known lower firefighter-to-citizen per capita for a local government fire service agency in California?

No. Placentia has the lowest firefighter to citizen per capita in California. 

What is the difference between a “career” firefighter and “reserve” or “part-time firefighters?

A career firefighter is an individual that is a full-time equivalent (FTE) employee of a fire service agency and that meets and/or exceeds all training and experience requirements for the position. The hour and experience requirements of a career firefighter significantly exceed those of a reserve or part-time firefighter.  For example, in order for Placentia FLSD firefighters to meet the State Fire Marshal’s Office requirements for Firefighter II certification, it requires 344 hours of training. Professional career firefighters are put through 2-3 times as many initial training hours to achieve a Firefighter II certification. Reserve and part-time firefighters lack the education, training and experience necessary to operate safely on the fireground independently. They cannot be included in the NFPA 1710 head count or as members of an Initial Rapid Intervention Crew (IRIC) or Rapid Intervention Crew (RIC) team(s).

Reserve and part-time firefighters provide a valuable service to their communities and in a supporting role, assist career firefighters at a variety of emergencies. Most reserve and part-time firefighters are aspiring to become full-time career firefighters.

Why is it important that when deploying resources, only “career” (FTE) firefighters be included in the structure fire response head count?

Firefighter safety.  When deploying resources, including only career (FTE) firefighters ensures that enough full-time trained and experienced firefighters are requested to meet the NFPA 1710 applicable initial full alarm assignment requirement by the OCFCA.

Anything can occur at any time on the fireground especially when it involves offensive interior firefighting.  The survivability profile of a Mayday or multiple Maydays requires practiced action plans that have been trained on. All fires progress in different ways in a fast-paced dynamic environment which lead to many kinds of possible events from just simple disorientation to structural collapse entrapping firefighters. These events also apply to those who are rescuing their fellow firefighters. Therefore, it is important to have adequate resources and staffing on the scene at any given firefight whether offensive or defensive.