What happens when local fire chiefs in Illinois need help battling an out-of-control blaze, conducting a search-and-rescue mission, or responding to the COVID-19 pandemic? There isn’t a red telephone or Bat Signal, but they do have their own 9-1-1 system: The Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) also lovingly referred to by many Illinois firefighters as “Mother MABAS.”
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“We’re often called on by communities to help, and we always respond,” said MABAS Section Chief for Finance and Administration Bernie Lyons. “We can act as the coordinating body for statewide emergencies, and we can provide mutual aid across state lines. Within hours, we can have hundreds of firefighters and rescue specialists in place to help where they’re needed most.”
This mutual aid system works for both urban and rural areas so volunteers can work together and ensure no area is left without emergency services.
Nearly all Illinois fire departments are part of MABAS. The statewide fire mutual aid network developed in Illinois is expanding into neighboring states including Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin and Indiana.
Lyons, who became a firefighter in 1992, finds value in what he’s accomplished during his career.
“Firefighters often see instant gratification on calls to help someone,” he said. “As a chief officer you have less of that instant gratification but having a statewide impact from MABAS has been very fulfilling.”
While first responders give peace of mind to communities and individuals, they’ve endured uncertainties when it comes to their own peace of mind since the start of the pandemic.
Departments across Illinois have not been immune to the spread of COVID-19, making it all the more important to decrease the spread and properly sanitize work environments and equipment to ensure they can continue protecting their communities.
Through the Community Ties Giving Program, Union Pacific provided local grant funding to assist in providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other sanitization solutions to mitigate COVID-19 exposure for MABAS departments.
“We needed help and we needed it now; we needed a partner,” Lyons said. “UP stepped up and made themselves that partner. Getting Hurricane Sprayers and disinfectant, in addition to much needed PPE, out into the state to fight against COVID-19 meant everything to us and made a difference. Firefighters throughout the state are safer, more comfortable and more confident that their fire stations are safe, the ambulances they operate are safe and the equipment they use is safe. ”
While times remain uncertain, Union Pacific’s assistance allows MABAS members to remain on the front lines of COVID-19 response and supplied departments with much needed equipment.
“Disinfectant sprayers acquired through grant funds had an immediate, tangible effect,” said MABAS Section Chief of Operations Kevin Lyne. “They were put in place right away and used by fire agencies that did not have this type of disinfectant capability. Firefighters were confident while in their stations but also knew they would be safe going home to their families.”