Photo Credit: Alison Lerch

An Interview with NFPA’s Cathy Prudhomme

By: Cathy Prudhomme

Topic: Communications / Outreach Defensible space / Firewise Planning Preparedness Wildfire

Type: Interview

Headshot PrudhommeFAC Net recently interviewed Cathy Prudhomme, the Firewise Communities/USA program manager with the National Fire Protection Association’s Wildland Fire Division, based in their Denver field office. Prior to joining the NFPA team, she was the community preparedness program manager for the state of Colorado. Before moving to the Denver area, she was the community services unit supervisor, a public information officer and Firewise program manager during her tenure with the City of Colorado Springs Fire Department.

FAC Net: How did you get involved in community wildfire resilience work?

CP: In 2001, I was working at a public relations and marketing firm and the City of Colorado Springs Fire Department’s Wildfire Division was a client. Through that project I got to be a part of helping them shape the launch of their brand new wildfire outreach program. Soon after that project ended, I was offered an amazing opportunity to join them as their Firewise program coordinator.

FAC Net: NFPA has been a member of the FAC Coalition since it started in 2012. Can you say a bit about your organization’s commitment to spreading fire adapted communities concepts? What FAC resources are available from NFPA?

CP: NFPA is a global nonprofit organization and since 1896 they’ve been devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. Our Firewise Communities/USA program encourages local solutions for wildfire safety by involving homeowners and other stakeholders to protect people and property from wildfire risks. That effort includes fire adapted communities concepts; we believe it takes each of those to fully address the wildfire issue, and they’re all important threads in getting communities where they need to be. There are FAC resources available through our online catalog and they’re free and shipping is included.

FAC Net: NFPA has administered the Firewise Communities U.S.A. program since 2002, helping thousands of neighborhoods take important steps to protect themselves from wildfires. What are some of the other wildfire initiatives that NFPA is working on?

CP: The Firewise Communities/USA program is the cornerstone of our suite of programs, but we’re also extremely proud of the Home Ignition Zone workshops. Recently six sessions were delivered to firefighters in different geographic areas, at no cost to them, through a FEMA grant.

In 2013, we did a Wildfire Preparedness Day of Service pilot in Colorado and participation exceeded our hopes. That campaign has since morphed into Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, which is held the first Saturday in May in both the U.S. and Canada. This year in the U.S. there were close to 200 projects in 35 states posted to the “Put Your Project on the Map” feature, and we’re already hearing about plans communities are developing for their 2017 projects.

FAC Net: Several FAC Net members are working on youth engagement strategies. Can you tell us about NFPA’s Take Action program, including what inspired it, and results you’ve seen since it launched in 2015?

CP: TakeAction is the result of six large group conversations we had with middle school- and high school-aged youth and their parents in 2012 after large wildfire events in Texas and Colorado. During those conversations they told us what they knew before the fire, what they wished they would have known, what they want to know and how they want that information delivered.

Directly from those conversations many different resources were developed including Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, a whiteboard Wildfire Facts video and a Community Service video in both English and Spanish along with corresponding resources, a Pet and Horse Preparedness video and checklists. Coming this fall will be a series of virtual field trips that were filmed in Texas, California and Washington, each in three very different stages of recovery.

Reaching the middle and high school demographic with wildfire information and other resources requires a specialized approach. Students vividly shared what resonates with them, the best mediums for getting their attention and the best “messengers.” It was an enlightening experience to get to hear their ideas, experiences and needs. Those conversations were captured in Engaging Youth in Reducing Wildfire Risk, a report that details what was shared during those sessions.

FAC Net: What inspires you to do the work that you do?

CP: Over the past 15 years, I’ve worked at the local, state and national levels and time and time I again I’ve seen the importance of empowering residents to take a proactive role in reducing the wildfire risk where they live. The benefits of their efforts are powerful!

For me, the opportunity to play a small education and advocacy role is very fulfilling. It’s much like the proverb: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. It’s so important to teach residents what they can do and why, versus just getting it done for them. There’s nothing more fulfilling than hearing a testimonial from a homeowner who did mitigation work and their efforts were credited with their home surviving the fire.

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