As development increases in and around Barnegat Township, so does the need for wildfire education and mitigation. Credit: Wendy Fulks

Topic: Collaboration Defensible space / Firewise Learning networks Type: Success Story / Lessons Learned

First Municipal Fire Safety Council Formed in Barnegat Township

Author: Bill Brash

The statewide New Jersey Fire Safety Council was founded in July 2015, and the first of what we hope will become a network of municipal fire safety councils was formed in Barnegat Township last month.

Township Committeeman Frank Caputo led the council’s first public meeting on April 19. When asked about the Township’s decision to form the council, Caputo responded emphatically, “we know that Barnegat Township, with part of the community west of the Garden State Parkway and in the Pinelands, can and will be affected by wildfires. We also know from experience you can never be too prepared.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 9.50.27 AMChairman Caputo was impressed with the credentials of the newly appointed members and went on to explain the composition of the Council. “Barnegat Township has been through major wildfire incidents since the Warren Grove Fire in 2007, and what we did in developing the Council membership was tap into the experienced people that have been working on improving our preparedness since 2007.” When asked about his motivation to serve Barnegat Township as a member of the Wildfire Safety Council, Mr. Caputo replied, “we have an obligation to our residents to do whatever we can to reduce their risk, and enabling this Council is a good decision in that regard.”

John Cowie, president of the Barnegat Fire Company, was a principal proponent of creating the Wildfire Safety Council, and he was selected by the Barnegat Fire Chief to represent the Fire Company on the Council. “Barnegat Township has been at the forefront of local wildfire preparedness efforts, and we are proud of our actions and frankly our successes,” said Cowie. “Barnegat Township was the first municipality in New Jersey to complete the Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) process back in 2010. We were also selected by the International Association of Fire Chiefs to be one of the few volunteer fire companies used in their demonstration project for the inaugural Ready, Set, Go! program. We have a lot to offer our community, as a result of the experience we gained with wildfire and how to prepare for it.” Mr. Cowie’s comments echoed several who will serve on the Council when he stated, “I want to use my knowledge and experience to give back to my community by helping my neighbors be better prepared when the next wildfire comes.”

Nancy Reid from the Horizons at Barnegat development also serves on the council. Nancy and her husband Rob have been evacuated three times in the past 10 years due to wildfires, and they decided to get involved years ago by starting a Firewise Community at Horizons. Nancy was the “sparkplug” needed to get her community aware of the risk they all faced. Mrs. Reid said, “we started our efforts off slowly and several residents were concerned when we started talking about a perimeter fuelbreak around Horizons. Many were concerned that the bucolic nature of the woods around Horizons would be changed and no longer represent what had brought them to live here in the first place.”

Horizons at Barnegat, an over-55 residential development, was designated as a Firewise Community in 2009. Credit: Wendy Fulks

Horizons at Barnegat, an over-55 residential development, was designated as a Firewise Community in 2009. Credit: Wendy Fulks

“We completed a small demonstration area and when residents saw the thinning of the shrubs and ladder fuels, they liked what they saw. Shortly afterward, they came on board wanting the work performed outside their homes too. We have continued those efforts of reducing the fuels around our development for the past eight years with help from the New Jersey Forest Fire Service’s sponsored Firewise program.”

When asked why she was willing to serve on the new Wildfire Safety Council, Mrs. Reid said she thought it was a “good time to take the separate efforts being made in the community through Firewise, and Ready, Set, Go! and make Barnegat a true fire adapted community by coordinating our efforts under a single council. There are many programs out there that can help Barnegat become better prepared, and we can utilize them best by having a dedicated and knowledgeable Wildfire Safety Council. My goal is for Barnegat to become a fire adapted community where we can go through another large wildfire event with a minimum of disruption, secure in the knowledge that we have done the best we can to prepare for it.”

Township officials realize their situation and have taken extensive steps to educate the residents about the wildfire risk, and the steps they can take to reduce that risk.

The efforts of this community can be summed up by a statement made by another member of the newly formed Council, Office of Emergency Management coordinator Lt. Keith Germain. When asked about his invitation to join the council, Keith said it was a simple decision. “I asked myself what more can we do? I think the formation of the Council is something we had to do to improve our preparedness efforts, and I’m willing to do more than my part to serve the Council.”

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