Photo Credit: The author (right) and Captain Jerry McAdams review a map of evacuation routes for Travis County, Texas. Photo credit: Wendy Fulks.
One of the challenges facing any wildland-urban interface community is determining what scale is most appropriate for integrating FAC concepts. The Austin and Boise Fire Departments are two of the largest municipal departments participating in the FACLN, and we share similar challenges associated with community wildfire safety and resilience.
I first met Captain Jerry McAdams of the Boise Fire Department at the 2013 NFPA Backyards and Beyond Conference, where I attended his presentation on managing fuels with goat grazing. In 2014 at the FACLN annual workshop Jerry and I learned that large municipalities face similar WUI challenges. It was there that we hatched the idea to conduct some on-site learning exchanges to enhance both departments’ respective programs, as well as to generate some best practices and lessons learned that could help other municipal fire departments.
Our first exchange took place February 2-6, 2015, in Austin and Travis County, Texas. Participants included representatives from the Boise District Bureau of Land Management, The Nature Conservancy, Boise Fire Department, Austin Fire Department, Austin Water Utility, Austin Watershed Protection Department, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the Austin Travis County Wildfire Coalition and the Jester Firewise Committee.
The group visited and discussed fuels treatments, including an area where prescribed fire is regularly used for both ecosystem restoration and community protection. The field trip also included a visit to a Firewise neighborhood. Discussion topics included Ready, Set, Go! outreach and preparedness, enhancement of fire department response, evacuation planning, threatened and endangered species issues, invasive plants and how mitigation efforts can enhance the effectiveness of first responders.
Time and time again conversations turned to collaboration and the need to break down barriers within fire departments, across city departments, and among outside stakeholder organizations. Fire department wildfire mitigation staff have a unique opportunity to bring homeowners, large land managers and other stakeholders together to help them coordinate efforts.
We’re extremely pleased with how the exchange went, as we met all of our objectives. Now we’re looking forward to visiting Jerry and his colleagues in Boise this May to continue the learning exchange.
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