MABAS will help fire departments communicate

ALPENA – The use of the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System has been used for many years in parts of the country, but until recently communities in Michigan have been slow to use the plan that creates a response information index for large and small emergencies. The index will be able to provide dispatchers clear orders as to who and what is needed at a scene.

Alpena Fire Chief Bill Forbush said llinois has used MABAS for more than a half century and has benefited from it in many ways. He said the idea here is to take emergency rescue entities in region No. 7, which is most of northern Michigan. He said it takes agreements between four departments in the region to get the system off the ground and plans in how they will respond to an incident, or cover for an area that is short in coverage can be implemented.

Forbush said Traverse City Metro Fire Department, Charleviox, Otsego County EMS and Alpena are in place and three more departments are awaiting board approval before becoming part of the system. He said when an emergency happens at any address a file of what could be needed at the scene is pulled and sent to the scene. He said in the case of large incidents the files also send personnel and equipment to cover for those on site. Forbush said it is a way to be more efficient and to keep coverage in areas that would normally be short when an emergency takes place.

“We have all of the major cities in northern Michigan covered and although it is unlikely we will be needed to assisted by them, in a major emergency it nice to have that additional layer of help,” Forbush said. “What we are hoping for is this will act as a catalyst and other departments will join MABAS in this area and it will really help our mutual aid system.”

Forbush said if a fire were to happen at a place such as Lafarge, the departments would know as soon as the call went out about who was needed to respond, what equipment would be needed and what other departments would be put on standby in case another emergency occurs while the first is ongoing. The box system would contain a single alarm emergency, such as a small fire to a special alarm which would indicate a large emergency requiring a large response. The information would also indicate if specialized equipment, such as a tanker truck, will be needed.

“The box card will know who has any special equipment we will need and the dispatcher will know who to send,” Forbush said. “It will save time, because we won’t have to worry about who may have it, we already know because it is on the card and agreed upon the use ahead of time.”

Forbush said the most important fact is the MABAS would move a portion of the department’s personnel and equipment from one place to another when large emergencies take place. He said that way, should another incident occur, there is someone available to respond.

“The way it works now is we all tend to call all of our resources right next to us in and then there is a void in an area that isn’t adequately protected,” Forbush said. “In the box card we would have built in that another department move into the area where coverage is lacking. Only 20 percent of a department’s equipment or personnel can be moved or respond, as to prevent another shortage.”

A MABAS presentation was given to Alpena Municipal Council and the council voted to allow Forbush to move forward with the development of the system. He said he wants to make it clear however this system should not be thought of as consolidation.

“This is not a consolidation plan, it is a cooperation plan,” Forbush said. “This isn’t intended to put departments together. What we are doing is taking each individual entity and learning to work together even more effectively and efficiently than we do now. That will be a benefit for the citizens.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5689.