New Canaan Fire Department Pursues ‘Automatic Mutual Aid’ with Neighboring Towns


House fire at a Dan's Highway house on Nov. 16, 2019. Photo published with permission from its owner

New Canaan fire officials are drafting agreements with bordering municipalities in order to ensure that trained firefighters are getting to more potentially serious scenes even faster.

As it is, the New Canaan Fire Department has automatic mutual aid with agencies in towns such as Wilton and Vista, N.Y. when it comes to structure fires.

Yet in responding to other calls—such as residential fire alarms or reports of a possible carbon monoxide illness, the town’s response time to far-reaching corners of the town often exceeds the National Fire Prevention Association’s requirements, according to New Canaan Fire Chief Albe Bassett. 

“The travel distances are too far,” Bassett told members of the Fire Commission during their regular meeting, held Tuesday night at the firehouse on Main Street.

With an automatic mutual aid agreement in place, trained firefighters from neighboring departments such as Stamford and Pound Ridge, N.Y. could get eyes on scene several minutes faster—an often critical window.

Bassett said he studied NCFD’s response times and identified four “quadrants” of the town where help is needed, and that he’s “actively looking to get agreements with Pound Ridge, Vista, and Stamford to provide an automatic mutual aid engine for any emergency response.”

He provided the example of West Cross Road in New Canaan, which is located below the Merritt Parkway at the town’s southwestern border with Stamford.

“For us, it’s a 13-minute response,” Bassett said. “For Stamford, it would only be a six-minute response.”

The chiefs of other departments are bringing the proposal back to their own organizations, Bassett said. The number of calls where mutual aid would be provided amounts to about 12 to 18 per year for each identified quadrant, he said.

“I’m meeting with our executive board hopefully next week to just make sure we’re crossing our T’s, dotting our I’s,” Bassett said. 

He added, “The agreements are drafted. We don’t have to put them in place if we don’t want to. But the agreements are there if we want to do them. I only have one signed, which is Wilton’s right now, that we’re going to do this more than regular structure fires. So that’s kind of the plan for automatic mutual aid. It’s really to get the eyes on scene faster, better for our community, and safer for our members.”

Asked by Commissioner Kerry Smith what New Canaan’s obligation would be to its neighboring fire agencies, Bassett said that Darien is seeking automatic mutual aid for the area of Talmadge Hill. Wilton also likely would seek automatic mutual aid for Route 106 near New Canaan, he said.

Long-term, Bassett said, the locations he identified “would be places where we would target a second station.”

Bassett said he hasn’t considered how staffing would work at such a second station, “but just the location of a physical station that we can respond from, to make that response time a lot less for our community.”

Commission Chair Jack Horner said the areas in question could have some fire apparatus in place to help speed up response times.

With the exception of Route 123, for which the Fire Department already has a very fast response time, the town’s north-south arteries are the areas where a second station would be ideal, Bassett said—such as Ponus Ridge, Route 124 and Valley Road.

Referring to residential properties in those areas, Bassett said, “Maybe somebody would will something to us, knowing that we want it. That’s another reason to get it out there now. That, hey, we’re looking for these targeted areas. If a resident ever wants to leave something to the fire service, that’s a possibility.”

2 thoughts on “New Canaan Fire Department Pursues ‘Automatic Mutual Aid’ with Neighboring Towns

  1. This is clearly a budget issue. New Canaan FD is understaffed and don’t have a sufficient amount of stations. You are balancing your fire department budget on the backs of neighboring communities. Also some surrounding departments are 100 percent volunteer which will affect response times.

  2. Vista FD is volunteer. My son was a firefighter there and the response time was always under 10 minutes for the furthest locations. Keep in mind that no firefighters are at the FD. They all drive from home to the FD and then to the fire location. It’s still efficient but adds another 4 minutes to the call.

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