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Disaster Prep and First Response

How Volunteer Firefighters Help Homeowners Prepare for the Worst

Photo: Courtesy of Jay Heike

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there were over 58,000 wildfires in 2018, burning more than 8.7 million acres. As wildfire season grows longer and the impact of wildfires becomes increasingly destructive, it is more important than ever that communities take steps to ready homes and property before the next wildfire strikes.

With that in mind, the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) and the U.S. Forest Service teamed up in 2011 to create the Wildland Fire Assessment Program (WFAP), which is designed to help homeowners better protect their properties from wildfires.

Proactive approach

WFAP equips volunteer firefighters and auxiliary members with tools and resources to conduct home safety assessments for residents living in the wildland-urban interface. These volunteers are trained to recognize dangers and threats in and around a home and provide specific recommendations to the homeowners so they can make changes to minimize their risks. A more fire-adapted home stands a better chance against the threat of wildfires.

“WFAP takes a proactive approach to protecting homes and property from wildfires,” says NVFC Chair Steve Hirsch. “Actions taken by residents now can help mitigate the impact of a future wildfire. It makes sense that the volunteer firefighters who respond to wildfires work with community members to decrease the risks and hopefully lessen the devastation a wildfire brings.”

Fire departments can access free resources and training at www.nvfc.org/wfap. Once trained, the department can work with community members to perform the home assessments and create more resilient communities.

Fire readiness

While a home safety assessment provides a comprehensive review of risk areas, here are a few general tips all homeowners should follow to increase their readiness for the next wildfire.

  • Have a family disaster plan and supply kit ready in preparation for wildfire and potential evacuations.
  • Know where the gas, electric, and water main shut-off controls are and how to use them.
  • Maintain a 5-foot perimeter of noncombustible space around the home using concrete, rock, or noncombustible mulch.
  • Keep lawns well-irrigated and continuously remove dead vegetation, including plant material, leaves, and branches.
  • Keep gutters, skylights, and roof-to-wall intersections clean of all debris.
  • Keep detached structures (e.g. sheds, playsets), and propane tanks that are large enough that they are required to be filled by a delivery truck, at least 30 feet away from the home. They also need to have noncombustible space around them.
  • Clear debris from decks and porches; don’t store combustible items under decks.
  • Work with your local fire department to help identify the areas for improvement that will increase the chance of your property’s survival in the case of a wildfire in your area.

About two-thirds of the nation’s firefighters are volunteers, and the NVFC has many programs to help these dedicated men and women prepare for disaster response. These include initiatives related to training, health and safety, and staffing. In addition, the NVFC and Anheuser-Busch launched a new partnership in 2019 to provide emergency drinking water to volunteer fire departments to ensure responders receive proper hydration during wildfire response. Hydration is a critical need for firefighters so they can perform at their best when battling intense blazes.

The NVFC also administers the Volunteer Firefighter Support Fund, which provides stipends to volunteer firefighters and EMS providers who are impacted by large-scale disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding. Many of the responders who answer the calls for their neighbors during disasters are also victims of these same disasters. The Volunteer Firefighter Support Fund offers assistance to these heroes to help them in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. The fund relies on donations, 100 percent of which goes to emergency responders in need.

More information about the NVFC and its initiatives is available at www.nvfc.org.

Ron Roy, Wildland Committee Chair, National Volunteer Fire Council, [email protected]

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