Winthrop Harbor Fire Department Winthrop Harbor Fire Department


In the 1970's, the Fire Department became involved in a state-wide mutual aid system. This system, called Mutual Aid Box Alarm System, is a system where a department can call on other area departments by simply giving a Box number. M.A.B.A.S. is divided into divisions all across the state. Each department has prearranged "Boxes" which contain responses from area departments. Each Box has five alarm levels, which bread down the various responses. A Box can be upgraded to the 2nd alarm, 3rd alarm, etcteras, as required. There are many different Boxes a department can have. The Winthrop Harbor Fire Department is part of M.A.B.A.S. Division-4, which is based and dispatched in Lake Forest, Illinois. If this dispatch center were to go down for any reason, the backup dispatch center is in Mundelein, Illinois.

The first box the department uses is for a structure fire in a hydranted area. This brings in local departments when activated. Most responding units are engines, squads and one or two ambulances. As the alarm would get higher, the Box would request and bring in Chiefs to assist in the rising situation.

The next Box alarm requests mostly tankers, which are fire apparatus that mainly carry water. This one is for a fire in a non-hydranted area, such as our fire district. As with the other Box, other Chiefs come in to give leadership to different areas. The large the incident, more tankers are called in to deliver water to the scene of the fire.

In the event of a large incident involving the need for ambulances, a life safety box can be activated. These bring in up to 10 ambulances if required. A life safety box had been used in the past for major motor vehicle crashes and bus crashes. These are also in place in the event of a bombing, earthquake, or nuclear disaster.

The department Dive Team is sometimes overwhelmed by a dive rescue incident. This is why a dive rescue Box is in place. A dive box can bring in 9 boats and divers from at least 17 area departments. This box also brings in six squad vehicles, capable of filling the divers air tanks. Having the properly trained personnel on scene within an adequate time frame greatly increases the chances of a recovery.

In the past, there have been many large fires that have taken place, especially down by the lakefront. These fires pose a difficult situation due to the rough terrain they are typically located in. With normal fire engines being out of the question, 4x4 trucks equipped with tanks are used to gain access and extinguish the fires. These fires can quickly increase in size and strength. So, in order to have enough off-road vehicles available, a brush fire box was established. This brings in 9 brush trucks and a few engines for water supply.

The last box is one which we have fortunately not had to use, but is of great importance for this area. It is for a hazardous materials incident. If in the even there is a spill, or incident posing any kind of a hazardous substance, this box is put into effect. Only fire personnel that are specially trained to deal with hazardous situations are used for these incidents. To support our own hazardous materials technicians, the haz-mat box brings in technicians from 16 other area departments.

With the assistance of the M.A.B.A.S. box alarm system, it brings a bit if assurance when responding to a large incident. The officer knows that with this system, he or she can get all the assistance they will need. Many other states are now introducing similar systems, patterned after our box alarm system in Illinois.

If, in the event that a box has gone to the 5th alarm, and more equipment is needed, a department can go interdivisional. This would bring in departments from outside of our M.A.B.A.S. Division-4 area.

Copyright © 2009 Village of Winthrop Harbor Fire Department, Winthrop Harbor, IL 60096 - USA