Why La Crosse Fire Dept. wasn’t called first to aid Shelby house fire

La Crosse Fire Dept. is not at the top of MABAS call list for Town of Shelby

A large house fire in the Town of Shelby Thursday night required manpower from more than five area fire departments.  However, La Crosse didn’t actually help fight the fire even though it was the closest.

It’s all part of a mutual aid plan that has been in place for years.  In 2006, former Gov. Jim Doyle signed a bill into law that allows emergency responders to share resources.  Since then, more than 750 different fire departments have agreed to this contract.  Local fire departments say MABAS is what helps them help the community.

“MABAS stands for mutual aid box alarm system. It is a way for firefighters to call apparatus from different areas to assist with the fire,” said Town of Shelby Assistant Fire Chief Tony Holinka.

Holinka said his department wouldn’t have been able to contain the house fire in the 2200 block of Henifl Road so quickly without help from other departments.

“It does definitely help with manpower.  The ability to work a large structure fire, like we had last night, and extinguish it very quickly,” said Holinka.


MABAS is an agreement among municipalities that allows them to share resources.

Lt. Wayne Nagy with the Onalaska Fire Department says the MABAS system is pre-planned.

“It ends up on a card system that we use.  You pre-define everything ahead of time, so you know how many engines, trucks and squads,” said Nagy.

Thursday night, the Shelby Fire Department called a box one alarm, which means certain agencies respond.  While La Crosse wasn’t actually called in to help fight the fire, it did cover calls for the Town of Shelby.

Holinka said, “We don’t have to remember what stations we have coming or any other stations we have.  We already know the apparatus and what’s coming.  We get exactly what we need when we need it.”

However, the agreement is not set in stone.

Nagy said, “What we do is we meet every once in a while and we talk about what resources we would use.  You don’t want to pull too many departments from one area because then you are depleting them.”

It’s an agreement that works well and allows emergency responders to help each other.

“The idea is that we help Shelby, they will help us some day.”

Each department decides who is called to help at an emergency and in which order they are called, meaning each department has a different call list.  Although La Crosse is the closest, it was further down on the list for Thursday night’s fire.  If the fire had gotten bigger, its crews would have responded.

It does not cost the fire departments any money to be part of the mutual aid agreement, nor does it cost the homeowners whose house caught fire.