Large Scale Incidents

There are three primary methods of requesting additional resources throughout the US, Wisconsin and the tri-county area.  Each method provides those resources in different ways, and have different purposes.

Mutual Aid

Mutual Aid comes in the form of neighboring departments when asked for by an Incident Commander (IC).  For example, for a structure fire, the IC could request Mutual Aid from LaGrange for an Engine to assist in the fire suppression operation.  In another example, for a three car motor vehicle collision with five injuries, the IC could request Mutual Aid from Delavan for an Ambulance as well as LaGrange for an ambulance to transport two of the five patients.

This system works well for small incidents; however, for larger incidents this system quickly become very difficult to manage.  Imagine for a large structure fire where you are requesting over 80 apparatuses to join the fire suppression operation. The IC will not know the capacities of every department around them and could also accidently drain a neighboring department of their equipment and manpower, which they may need for a call within their territory.


Auto-Aid is Mutual Aid that is automatically dispatched based upon the type of call and location of the incident.  This could be used on Whitewater’s East Side to automatically dispatch an engine and tender from LaGrange Fire Department anytime that a structure fire is dispatched for Whitewater.  In the same way, LaGrange could auto-aid Whitewater for a structure fire in their territory.  These agreements are established and relayed to the appropriate dispatch centers, so that no request has to be made at time of dispatch.

Mutual Aid Box Alarm System

The Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) uses a pre-generated card that the IC can use to request large amount of resources based upon the type, size and location of the incident.  This system is similar to Mutual Aid however it limits a departments ability to exhaust a neighboring department of their resources.  More information on the MABAS System can be found on the MABAS Website.

Regions and Divisions

MABAS Wisconsin breaks the state down into Regions, and then further down to divisions.  Each division (which is generally a whole county, although this is not true for all) is given a number.  Walworth County’s division number is 103, Rock County’s number is 104 and Jefferson County’s number is 118.  Each region has it’s own dispatch center that works with other region’s dispatch centers when requesting resources.

MABAS Box Card

Every department within the MABAS charter creates a set of Box Cards that track what resources will be requested based upon the IC’s needs. 

Each card will be for a specific type of emergency: Structure Fire, Life Safety, Water Rescue, Brush Fire, Tender Operation, HazMat, Technical Rescue, Commercial Fire, etc.  The card will then depict a specific location or area that card is designed for.  Each type of emergency and location will have different equipment listed on the card.  A specific area may also have a dedicated card.  These locations have special needs or concerns that may bring different types or additional units to a call.  For example, the power plant has many different hazards including chemicals, and so it may have its own card for an incident taking place there.  A nursing home may have a box card for a structure fire, due to the high volume of patients that are unable to move on their own. This card may call for additional manpower and ambulances to transport patients to different facilities.

 Alarm Level

When a box card is pulled, the IC informs dispatch that they would like to PULL BOX ALARM NUMBER  ### TO THE [alarm level] ALARM. From there, dispatch will locate the card being requested, and advise MABAS of the card being pulled, and the alarm level. The Interagency Fire Emergency Radio Network (IFERN) dispatch center(s) then dispatches all resources requested at that level. As the alarm level gets higher, resources from farther and farther away are requested. Some requested resources will cover stations that have already sent a large number of resources to the call, in case that station receives its own call.

If an IC finds that he needs additional resources, he can UPGRADE THE ALARM TO THE ### LEVEL. Again, dispatch notifies IFERN of the upgrade request and the additional resources are requested.

Limited Requests

In some instances, an upgraded alarm is needed but not for all of the resources.  For example, a structure fire in the country may have enough man power and engines, but needs more tenders to deliver water.  In this case, the IC can upgrade the alarm, but request only tenders to respond.

For very large scale incidents, such as a bleacher collapse or a mass casualty event at the university, a strike force or interdivisional request can be made for additional equipment.   These requests will call for a specific set of equipment from a neighboring division, and they are able to determine how to best fill the request.  For example, in the mass casualty situation, strike force requests could be made after pulling a life safety box for additional amulances to respond to the staging area to transport injured patients.  In addition, squads may be requested to help search the area for those injured or still hiding.

IFERN and Whitewater Dispatch

Once dispatched to a MABAS call, the responding unit will contact dispatch to inform dispatch that they are in route to the MABAS call, and that the unit is switching to IFERN, which is the MABAS dispatch channel.  Once switch, the responding unit contacts IFERN to inform MABAS dispatch that the apparatus is in route to the scene.  There are a few differences between how the two dispatch centers should be contacted.

Whitewater Dispatch:

1282: Whitewater Dispatch from 1282

Dispatch: 1282

1282: 1282 is enroute to the MABAS call, switching over to IFERN

Dispatch: 10-4 1282


1282 (on IFERN): MABAS Division 118 from Whitewater Ambulance

IFERN: Whitewater Ambulance

1282 (on IFERN): Division 118, Whitewater Ambulance is enroute to [community and address of incident or change of quarters location] at [time].

i.e.: Division 118, Whitewater Ambulance is enroute to  Fort Atkinson 1234 Main St at 1430

i.e.: Division 104, Whitewater Ambulance is enroute to change of quarters for Beloit

IFERN: 10-4 Whitewater Ambulance, enroute to [location] at [time]

In some instances, IFERN may assign a radio channel or deliver alternative instructions.  Comply with dispatch. If given a channel, switch to the new channel.

When cleared from scene, report to IFERN in a similar manner as before and advise that the unit has been cleared by IC and returning to Whitewater.  Then, switch back to the Whitewater Repeater and advise Whitewater Dispatch that the unit is returning from the MABAS call.

Important MABAS Lingo

  • Ambulance: When MABAS advises that an Ambulance is requested, Rescue will respond.  In all other situations, a fire apparatus is being requested.
  • Pass:  In the event that we are not able to fulfill a request, we take a pass on that apparatus.
  • Striking the Box: This means that the incident has been contained and that the IC no longer requires additional resources.  Dispatch will advise if units enroute should continue enroute, or if they should return.  Any unit that has not left yet, should not go enroute.
  • Upgrade the Alarm: Additional resources are required and IFERN will dispatch for those resources
  • Pull: An IC will pull a box to request the resources listed on that box.

Rescue and MABAS

For all MABAS requests, the duty DOES NOT respond unless it is a life safety box or an incident with injury when dispatched.  For most calls, the second truck or “off-duty” EMTs should respond to a MABAS call.  If a rescue officer obtains additional information regarding the situation, he or she may dispatch the duty crew to the incident.  If a crew does not respond, Whitewater Dispatch will inform IFERN that Whitewater is taking a PASS.  If available, you should respond to a MABAS request as we may be relying on our neighbors for their help at our incidents.

Radio Operations – Fireground Channels

There are six fireground channels for use on scene: Red, White, Blue, Gold, Black, Gray.  These channels are short range channels so they can be used by multiple departments on multiple incidents around the state without any interference.  These channels are utilized to remove operational chatter from the dispatch channel, thus clearing the line for dispatch.  If you respond to a scene (including a local scene for a MVC or fire), you may be advised by IC to switch to a fire ground or MABAS channel, such as Fire Red.  Once on-scene, you should have one radio on that channel and another on the WWFD Repeater dispatch channel.  At this point, all requests should be made to the IC and not directly to dispatch.  This includes additional resource or advanced resource needs such as ALS or a helicopter.  This allows the IC to track incoming resources and prevent multiple requests being relayed to dispatch.