Excerpts from the Record-Eagle.com:

The board for Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department approved a policy to begin charging neighboring fire departments between $1,000 and $5,000 for every two-hour stint a Metro fire truck spends responding to a fire outside the boundaries of the member townships of Acme, East Bay, and Garfield. The decision to charge was triggered by the disparity between the 25 times Metro gave support to surrounding fire departments during the past year compared to the five times it received aid.

“Mutual aid is exactly that, if we give you aid we can expect aid in return,” said Metro Fire Chief Pat Parker. “But as you can see from the numbers, we really haven’t had that.”

Grand Traverse County operates on what’s known as a box-response system where the county is divided into 80 geographic boxes and fire department response is assigned in advance based on the severity of each incident. The initial call triggers a first alarm. Larger fires that require more resources would escalate the event to a second, third, or fourth alarm.

Metro will charge $1,000 for the first two hours at a second alarm, $5,000 for a three-alarm fire, and $2,500 for a four-alarm incident. The bill would be $2,500 per hour after two hours. Board members also asked to change the boxes so Metro Fire no longer is called to respond to first alarms outside of the three townships.

“So many first alarms are just an investigation of a fire,” Parker said. “There’s no reason for us to be rolling our trucks out. Any established fire department should be able to handle those types of calls.”

Parker said the main reason Metro Fire is called to a first alarm is because they staff their stations 24 hours per day and not all of the surrounding townships have that same level of service.

“There is a level of readiness that our townships are willing to pay for and to give that readiness away to your neighbors without charge doesn’t seem right,” Parker said. “I think you are going to start seeing some changes throughout the county.”

The board passed the changes on Dec. 22 with a 3-2 vote. East Bay Township Trustee Beth Friend, chairwoman of the fire board, said everyone agreed to start charging but there were some disagreements over the particulars. Friend said the department won’t be the first to charge for mutual aid.

“Blair Township charges, and they have a good relationship with their neighboring jurisdictions and that’s what we anticipate as well,” Friend said. “We anticipate that jurisdictions not charging for mutual aid currently will follow suit and we welcome that.”

Grand Traverse Rural Fire received 12 mutual aid calls, most to Whitewater Township, and likely will feel the greatest impact from the decision to begin charging. Blair Township received aid seven times this year and gave it twice, while Traverse City received aid five times and returned it once.