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New localities join Hampton Roads mutual aid agreement for emergency response

A ladder truck in the bay of Station 6 in Suffolk. (Photo by Laura Philion)
A ladder truck in the bay of Station 6 in Suffolk. (Photo by Laura Philion)

During Suffolk’s Category 3 tornado in April 2008, Chesapeake and Portsmouth responded with police, fire and EMS. Sixteen years after the tornado, Suffolk is formalizing its policy and updating an existing 2011 agreement to include Surry and Southampton Counties.

Suffolk’s Assistant Fire Chief David Harrell said the city responds to any locality that requests mutual aid where no formal agreement exists. 

In 2023 alone, the department sent or received mutual aid 462 times. The city formalized that process with other Hampton Roads by approving an ordinance this week at City Council that adds the last few localities to the official agreement: the city of Poquoson, and counties of Gloucester, Southampton and Surry.

“We can share apparatus,” Suffolk Fire Chief Michael Barakey told City Council. “And the apparatus could be your fire engines, your ladder companies, rescue companies, your medics or your ambulances, and also specialty equipment to include your tactical rescue, hazmat, marine.”

Poquoson Fire Chief Mike Bryant said mutual aid requests can often have to do with which departments have specific resources. His city was one of the last localities officially added to Suffolk’s mutual aid agreement this week.

Poquoson has mutual aid agreements with agencies throughout Hampton Roads, but Bryant said he most often requests aid from York County and Hampton, which border the city.

“When you're talking about a structure fire, particularly a commercial structure fire or even a residential structure fire, it's important to get manpower on scene as quickly as possible, which is mainly the reason we have these mutual aid agreements,” he said.

Staffing shortages are a secondary reason for enhancing mutual aid agreements.

“Staffing is an issue with everyone,” Bryant said. “All the localities in the region, at least, are hiring folks.”

Suffolk Chief Barakey said departments around Hampton Roads are working to roll out automatic aid, which is different from mutual aid because it integrates cities’ 911 systems for an enhanced response. 

Instead of taking crucial minutes to send requests from chief to dispatcher to dispatcher to chief, the integrated system sends the closest units regardless of which department they belong to.

“We're testing Chesapeake and Portsmouth right now. We should go live hopefully in April,” Barakey said last month.

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