MABAS, the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System, is commonly activated for fires and other critical emergencies that require extra equipment and personnel or specialized equipment and specialized personnel beyond the readiness of single community fire department or fire protection district. MABAS is also activated for much larger disasters with resources ready for tornados, floods, incidents involving mass casualties, terror attacks and more.

Mission Statement (2021)
MABAS-Illinois serves local fire agencies, MABAS Divisions, State of Illinois departments, and Cook County UASI-DHSEM by providing a systems-based resource allocation and distribution network of robust traditional and nontraditional fire-EMS-rescue and special operations teams for emergency and sustained response within and outside of the State of Illinois. Accomplishment of the services requires cooperation, standardization, reliability, partnering, brokering and ongoing communication and compliance with customer specification and expectations. Customer trust and reliance on the MABAS system is built upon personal relationships, credibility, and ongoing customer support.

Purpose Statement (2021)
The Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) provides emergency rapid response and sustained operations when a jurisdiction or region is stricken by an overwhelming event generated by manmade, technological, or environmental threats. In response, MABAS will mobilize and, deploy a sustained fire, emergency medical services (EMS), hazardous materials, technical rescue, water rescue, urban search & rescue, and incident management assistance team resources to prevent loss of life, human suffering and further damage to property.

From the MABAS ABOUT PAGE (retrieved Feb. 6. 2021)

MABAS (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System) in partnership with IEMA (Illinois Emergency Management Agency) have established a statewide, non-discriminatory mutual aid response system for fire, EMS and specialized incident operational teams. Sharing the effort are representatives from the Office of the State Fire Marshal, Department of Public Health – EMS Division and Illinois Fire Chiefs Association. The system defines a resource response plan to any location within the state when the Governor orders a Declaration of Disaster. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed on January 16, 2001, and updated in 2006, a first in Illinois fire service history.

MABAS has also become a Partner Agency with Cook County’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Together, MABAS and CCDHSEM designs and establishes capability based systems to serve the high density, urban area

Historically, IEMA has had the capability through state resources and assets to support disaster stricken communities in many areas except Fire, EMS, Technical Rescue, Urban Search and Rescue, Water Rescue & Recovery, and Hazardous Materials Operations Teams. Illinois resources like State Police, Department of Transportation and numerous other state assets are able to mobilize under the direction of the Governor in response to a disaster. Since Illinois does not own a fire department, EMS ambulances or specialized operations teams, a substantial “system” resource within the control of the state was lacking. The plan provides a system of “one-stop shopping” for IEMA officials to activate and mobilize local municipal fire, EMS and special operations assets through MABAS.

MABAS is a statewide mutual aid system, which has been in existence since the late 1960s. Pre September 11th, MABAS was heavily rooted throughout northern Illinois. Since September 11th, MABAS has rapidly grown throughout the State of Illinois as well as Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan and parts of Iowa and Missouri. Day-to-day MABAS extra alarms are systematically designed to provide speed of response of emergency resources to the stricken community during an ongoing emergency. Declarations of Disaster provide a MABAS sustained system of response on top of daily mutual aid activations. Today MABAS includes approximately 1,175 of the state’s 1,246 fire departments organized within 69 divisions. MABAS divisions geographically span an area from Lake Michigan to Iowa’s border and south almost into Kentucky. Wisconsin divisions also share MABAS with their Illinois counterparts. The cities of Chicago, St. Louis, and Milwaukee are also MABAS member agencies. MABAS has expanded into all 102 Illinois counties.

MABAS includes approximately 38,000 of Illinois’ 40,000 firefighters who staff emergency response units including more than 1,600 fire stations, 2,735 engine companies, 500 ladder trucks, 1,300 ambulances (many paramedic capable), 250 heavy rescue squads, and 1,000 water tenders. Fire/EMS reserve (back-up) units account for more than 1,000 additional emergency vehicles.

MABAS also offers specialized operations teams for hazardous materials (40 teams), underwater rescue/recovery (15 teams), technical rescue (39 teams) and a state sponsored urban search and rescue team. An additional element of resource are the certified fire investigators, Incident Management Team members and fleet support mechanics which can be “packaged” as mobile support teams providing assistance with larger scale incidents requiring complicated and time-consuming efforts beyond capabilities of most agencies.

MABAS is a unique organization in that every MABAS participant agency has signed the same contract with their 1,100 plus counterpart MABAS agencies. As a MABAS agency, you agree to: standards of operation, incident command, minimal equipment staffing, fireground safety and on-scene terminology. MABAS agencies, regardless of their geopolitical origin, are able to work together seamlessly on any emergency scene. All MABAS agencies operate on a common radio frequency (IFERN) and are activated for response through pre-designed “run” cards each participating agency designs and tailors to meet their local risk need. MABAS also provides mutual aid station coverage to a stricken community when their fire/EMS resources are committed to an incident for an extended period.

MABAS extra alarms are commanded by the stricken community and dispatch control is handled through the stricken community’s MABAS division dispatch center. Over 800 MABAS locally controlled extra alarm

incidents occur annually throughout the 69 divisions of Illinois MABAS. Existing Illinois statute regarding a Declaration of Disaster allows the Governor to mobilize state assets under the direction of IEMA. Through a memorandum of understanding between IEMA and MABAS, fire, EMS and special operations resources can be activated as a State of Illinois asset when a Declaration of Disaster is initiated. Activation of the Statewide Plan through IEMA is designed to provide quantity of response for sustaining incident operations.

Upon the direction of IEMA, subsequent to a Declaration of Disaster, Fire, EMS and special operations resources can be mobilized as state assets. As a state asset, resources mobilized are afforded liability, reimbursements and workman’s compensation coverages. Further, any and all costs beyond normal operations experienced by fire, EMS and special operations will be reimbursed by the State of Illinois through IEMA. To assure clarity, reimbursement for an IEMA-directed mutual aid resource might include overtime related to the incident, an off duty personnel recall to maintain levels of service which were reduced due to the response, expendables, consumables and damage to mutual aid provided equipment directly related to the Declaration of Disaster.

Functionally, a Statewide Mutual Aid Resource Flow Plan is currently published (signed January 16, 2001) and operational for emergency response. A statewide CAD system electronically selects divisions to assign response assets as the plan’s software protocols direct. Cooperative consortiums such as CART (Combined Area Rescue Team) are also involved as resources within the plan. Certainly, as the plan is implemented, many more participant agencies will be involved as the “total force” concept of statewide fire, EMS and special operations becomes reality for Illinois.

Illinois faces many challenges from natural, manmade and technological threats to citizen safety. Over time we have become a sophisticated society but we continue to see disasters. Every community now has the newest threat of disaster to deal with – domestic terrorism, the delivery of a weapon of mass destruction which will certainly tax the entire state’s resources. MABAS is working with numerous other states, federal and local agencies through IEMA’s coordination to prepare for meta-disasters like earthquakes and improvised nuclear devices.

A question does still remain – will a Statewide Mutual Aid Plan through a Declaration of Disaster solve all needs of all communities? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

On a daily basis, communities face emergencies which overtax their local fire/EMS and special operations capabilities. Often the “local” crisis doesn’t warrant the state’s Declaration of Disaster and its accompanying statutory powers. Without a Declaration of Disaster, the Statewide Mutual Aid Plan cannot be officially activated, nor are the statutory powers in force for an assisting agency’s reimbursement, liability and workmen’s compensation coverage. When such cases exist, being a MABAS member agency affords irreplaceable benefits to a stricken community, regardless of where the community is located. MAMA-C is an approved legislated statute to further expand daily capabilities for mutual aid across state lines. The initiative provides service at no cost to the taxpayer.

As a MABAS member agency, your community has the same agreement as the 1,175 other communities – all agreeing to voluntarily send pre-determined resources, without reservation, to assist a stricken community. Without a formal written mutual aid agreement (such as MABAS), a request for mutual aid assistance becomes a legal quandary, putting the Fire Chief and his employing community who might send the resource, at great risk should equipment be damaged, or a firefighter is injured or killed in the line of duty.

MABAS has been activated on many occasions by Illinois Emergency Management Agency for emergency declarations since the January 16, 2001 Memorandum of Understanding was signed. The responses include; Tamara train derailment, Roanoke tornado, Utica and Harrisburg tornado disasters, and Louisiana Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav and Ike response and recovery effort through an EMAC activation.

Arlington Heights Fire Department Engine 2 at Chicago Fire Department Engine Company 108 for station coverage during La Salle Bank Fire, Monday, December 6, 2004
Arlington Heights Fire Department Engine 2 at Chicago Fire Department Engine Company 108 for station coverage during La Salle Bank Fire, Monday, December 6, 2004.

An example of a routine MABAS activation was the City of Chicago’s LaSalle Bank Building Fire, where twenty-two (22) suburban fire agencies filled in at City of Chicago fire stations to maintain continuity of emergency service to various Chicago neighborhoods. EMS MABAS responses to the City of Chicago, MABAS Division 9, have occurred during mass casualty events related to marathons, Metra and subway train crashes, electrical system failures, and other system surges damaging service levels.

To become a MABAS Division/agency, all that is required is a resolution or ordinance being enacted by the governing body and signing of the MABAS contract. Most MABAS agencies are comprised of a number of geographically co-located municipalities or districts. However, one community can also be its own MABAS division such as the City of Chicago, which is MABAS Division 9. Some MABAS divisions have 30 or more, member departments or districts. All it takes is discussion, agreement and political commitment. There is no cost to join MABAS, however once joining MABAS an annual dues requirement exists on a sliding schedule based on a member departments annual operating budget. Local MABAS Division dues may be self-imposed by and at the control of each individual MABAS division. The MABAS Executive Board meets at least three times per year and functions as a coordinating agency.

The Executive Board of MABAS routinely provides assistance to interested agencies. MABAS will provide any and all information to inquiring agencies including prepared ordinances, resolutions and the standard contract to communities who are seriously interested.

When crisis strikes a community, often costs are the last thing to be thought of. MABAS provides immediate response resources at no cost or fee under daily operations. How can a community afford not being part of MABAS?