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Volunteer fire departments lean on automatic aid agreements

When wildfires spark in Boulder County, departments don't have to wait for help, because it comes automatically.

HYGIENE, Colo. — When a research drone crashed and sparked a 52-acre fire in Boulder County Wednesday afternoon, volunteer firefighters from the Hygiene Fire Protection District knew they wouldn't fight the flames alone.

Crews from neighboring departments had their backs.

“I had Lyons' fire chief come," said Cody Trevithick, chief of Hygiene Fire Protection District. "I had Lefthand’s fire chief come. I had plenty of apparatus from both those departments show up. We had Boulder County come with all their crews.”

Multiple departments worked together Wednesday to contain the Table Mountain Fire in the 5000-block of Nelson Road. Each crew was dispatched as part of an automatic aid agreement created about six months ago.

"Auto aid means [when] we get called for a wildland grassfire, they automatically tone who’s part of that auto aid agreement," Trevithick said.

The agreement between the Hygiene Fire Protection District, Lyons Fire Protection District and Lefthand Fire Protection District was put to the test in the past week.

“It’s been a wonder to see it work the past couple fires that we’ve had," said Peter Zick, chief of the Lyons Fire Protection District.

Last Friday, a wildland fire broke out north of Lyons off County Road 37E in the Blue Mountain area. The 37E Fire burned 114 acres and prompted evacuations, but fire crews had it fully contained on Saturday.

“When we need the help, they’re all coming to help us, too, so it’s kind of a handwashing thing," Zick said. "We help you, you help us and it all works out really well."

Automatic aid is different from traditional mutual aid, Zick said. Departments don't have to wait for their crews to arrive on scene, assess the situation and call for help. Instead, the help comes automatically, because each one of the departments is dispatched at once.

“Just because you live in Hygiene’s fire district, it’s not just Hygiene protecting you," Trevithick said. "It’s a lot of help from Lyons, from Lefthand, from [Boulder Rural Fire Protection], from Longmont, from Boulder. Like, we all work as a team.”

The agreement among the departments in Boulder County calls for automatic aid during emergencies like wildfires, structure fires, major vehicle crashes and all mass casualty incidents.

“We’re all chasing the same goal," Trevithick said. "Taking care of our citizens, protecting their property, protecting them.”

Wildfires are too big for one department to handle alone. Trevithick appreciates the help from fellow departments, and the feeling is mutual.

“It’s one firefight, one team, one family," Zick said. "We truly believe in that, and that’s what we do all the time."

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