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MABAS: An Intro

By: Charisce Anderson

It’s Fire Prevention Week, ya’ll! Do you ever wonder how the fire departments get big incidents under control? In Illinois (and a few other states because they’re realizing how awesome it is), they participate in MABAS (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System) which is a non-discriminatory mutual aid system that works in conjunction with IEMA (Illinois Emergency Management Agency) to handle fire, EMS and specialized incident operations. Agencies are broken up into divisions across the state and each division is dispatched by a local PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point).

Each agency has a book of “box cards” which have predetermined resources from local agencies for various types of events. The box cards cover everything from a large scale structure fire to a chemical spill. The box cards are specific to each town/city and resources are predetermined based on the type of incident. They also have various alarm levels that they can continue to upgrade to bring their incident under control. Have you heard on the news about how fire crew responded to a five-alarm fire? That’s exactly what that means!

When fire command arrives at a scene, he (or she!) sizes it up and starts to develop a game plan. He might realize right off the bat that he needs more resources than what he has available in his department. It might be something he realizes as the incident continues to develop. Whenever he comes to that conclusion, he can look through his box cards and select the appropriate one for the incident. He then contacts the dispatch center for his MABAS division, tells him his radio call number, what box card number he needs, what level of the card, the incident location and what “staging” area they’re using for all that incoming equipment. The MABAS Division dispatch center then dispatches it on the MABAS radio channel to all units due and takes over radio operations for the incident.

This is just one more awesome thing dispatchers do!! If you’d like to learn more about how MABAS works, you can visit their website.


This is some good information for you dispatchers that work in police-only centers as it provides a little more insight to the FD side.

While this particular organization is specific to Illinois, variations exist in many other states. Become friends with your local FD dispatchers if you want to learn more for your area.

An informed dispatcher is a better dispatcher!

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