This article was written by Aysha Jamali and Nicole Krawcke
The red trucks will pull out and the sirens will sound this weekend as 300 firefighters from around Michigan participate in a joint emergency preparedness exercise in Novi.
Firefighters, including Canton Township and the City of Northville - which also covers the City of Plymouth, will convene Sunday at the Suburban Collection Showplace for the first exercise of this scale in Michigan on the heels of the 12th anniversary of 9/11.
“What this exercise stems from is the lack of a plan in the State of Michigan to deploy large numbers of firefighters and equipment in a time of a larger emergency,” said Troy Fire Chief William Nelson.
Nelson, president of Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) — a network of fire departments which is organizing the drill, said mutual aid preparedness is essential although Michigan doesn’t have hurricanes, earthquakes, or large wildfires.
“This is for a weather event or a man-made event like a terrorism incident or industrial accident,” he said.
Starting at 9 a.m., 14 MABAS divisions — including 25 fire departments from western Wayne, Oakland and Livingston counties — will prepare for the exercise at the Suburban Collection Showplace, 46100 Grand River Ave. Firefighters will continue the drill until late morning.
"If we were to have a fire incident that is beyond our scope – the right resources and personnel would be sent a lot quicker and help to save lives and preserve property," Canton Emergency Management Planner Kathleen Rich said.
“We don’t want to take all of the resources from one fire department so we divvy it up,” Nelson said.
Each division contributes an engine strike team, which includes five fire engines, the fire chief’s vehicle and a total of 22 people, he said. Initially, four teams will respond to the drill in Novi. Then the scenario will dictate that the firefighters need more help. For those teams that are farther away in the western and northern parts of the state, the exercise will end when they are ready to go.
“In a real emergency they could have responded,” Nelson said.
Michigan was unprepared for a large-scale emergency response, fire chief says
Nelson said Michigan fire departments realized there wasn’t a proper plan in place when asked to assist in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.
“We didn’t have any handle on how many resources we had, we had no mechanisms to deploy them, etc.,” he said.
The Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs began work on a plan in 2005, he said, which led to the creation of MABAS to streamline the requesting and providing of emergency and fire services resources across Michigan and the Great Lakes region for situations that might overwhelm a local fire department. Nelson said it’s a model used across the midwest.
The exercise is funded by a grant from the Urban Areas Security Initiative.