BREWER, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci on Monday ceremonially signed into law a statewide mutual aid agreement for first responder agencies, but it means little for the communities of Bangor and Brewer, which have had agreements in place for a century, a local official said.
“Bangor and Brewer have provided mutual aid [to each other] for about 100 years,” Brewer Fire Chief Rich Bronson, who also is a Bangor city councilor, said Monday.
The first official agreement between the sister cities was signed sometime in the 1960s, he said.
Both communities also have signed mutual aid agreements with all of the communities within Penobscot County, which have been on the books for years, and with some communities outside of the county.
“They can have every piece of equipment they want, and every man they want, if they need it,” Bronson said. “And vice versa.”
All they need to do is ask, he said.
The police departments from Bangor and Brewer also have mutual aid agreements that have been in place for at least a quarter-century, Bangor police Sgt. Bob Bishop said Sunday.
The new law, LD 847, allows fire, law enforcement, emergency management and medical agencies from one community to provide services to another, if asked. Communities can opt out of the agreement if they want.
Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, said she was asked to sponsor the bill by members of the Maine Emergency Management Agency and the state Fire Chiefs Association.
“We have this kind of patchwork of aid agreements,” she said. “There really was a need to have a coordinated approach.”
The wording of mutual aid agreements already in place vary from place to place, Haskell said, and the new law provides a uniform agreement that “basically everybody belongs to, unless they opt out.”
The governor said in a statement released Monday, “This is another example of communities working together for the greater good of the people of our state. When an emergency occurs, we all pull together and help each other out.”
Bronson said nothing would change under the new law for Bangor or Brewer.
In addition to the numerous mutual aid agreements Brewer has, the city also has automatic-aid agreements with Holden and Orrington, which means emergency responders in all three communities are dispatched to emergencies at the same time. And recently, Bronson and Bangor Fire Chief Jeff Cammack “agreed informally [to put] Bangor on Brewer’s run cards,” which means they will be notified automatically of emergency calls, Bronson said.
While the new agreement involves automatic notification, it’s not an automatic aid agreement, he said.
“If there is a fire in downtown Bangor the first truck you’ll see is a Bangor truck, but Brewer will be right behind,” Bronson said. “We go when they call, and they come over when we call. It works fine.”
The new law will allow local emergency agencies to work seamlessly with neighboring towns, Baldacci said in his statement.
“This will improve efficiency and allow our first responders to respond quickly to emergencies that affect their areas,” he said.