Mutual Assistance and Mutual Aid Agreements

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When disasters strike, they often tax the resources and personnel of a local government beyond its capacity to respond properly. In such situations, neighboring cities and counties have the opportunity to be lifesavers, often literally. Under the Mutual Aid and Emergency and Disaster Assistance Act of 2004 (discussed below), a statewide system of mutual assistance exists that may be used at the option of the local government. Prior to the enactment of this legislation, many local governments had mutual aid agreements in place. The local governments that wished to keep these older agreements in force had to adopt a resolution before July 1, 2004, to extend them. If the local government did not pass such a resolution, then the provisions of the 2004 law are in effect in the county. This re-adoption requirement to keep an old agreement does not affect service and operational agreements between local governments that are not emergency or disaster related. Also, local governments may adopt new mutual aid agreements.

The 2004 Mutual Aid and Emergency and Disaster Assistance Act makes a distinction between aid, which is provided under this law on request in situations in which there has been no declaration of a state of emergency or disaster and for which no cost reimbursement is required, and assistance, which is provided after an emergency or disaster is declared and for which cost reimbursement is required.  The law allows municipal and county mayors and executives to declare local states of emergency.  Requests for aid or assistance may be made verbally, but such requests must be confirmed in writing within 30 days of the initial request.

Parties must keep records of all requests for assistance made under the act. The law allows a responding entity to send personnel and equipment anywhere in the state to respond to a request for aid or assistance, but there is no duty to respond to a request or to stay at a scene for any length of time. Responding employees and entities acting outside their boundaries have the same protections they have in their home jurisdiction.

For liability purposes, employees of the responding party will be considered employees of the requesting party while under the requesting party's supervision. At all other times, they will be considered employees of the responding party. The requesting party is required to pay the responding party all documented allowable costs incurred by the responding party in providing assistance after a state of emergency has been declared. The responding party is entitled to one-half its reimbursable costs for the first six hours of its response and 100 percent after six hours are exceeded.

This does not apply to responding utilities, which are to be reimbursed for 100 percent of their costs from the beginning of the state of emergency. The requesting party is required to reimburse personnel costs and equipment and material costs according to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) fee schedules. The responding party must maintain records and submit itemized invoices for reimbursement to the requesting party no more than 60 days after the provision of assistance has ended. This law allows, but does not require, local government entities to provide aid or assistance to any state or federal entity upon request in any part of Tennessee.  T.C.A. § 58-8-101 et seq.

Tennessee Fire Service Emergency Response System--The Tennessee Fire Chiefs Association created the Tennessee Fire Service Emergency Response System to provide for the systematic mobilization, deployment, organization, and management of fire service resources to assist local agencies in a large fire event, disaster, or other major emergency.