Meaningful Measures of FAC Success
Authors: Porfirio Chavarria, Santa Fe Fire Department
How do we measure success? How do we indicate progress, and which measures do you feel are most important? These two questions were asked by Annie Schmidt, the director of the Chumstick Wildfire Coalition in Leavenworth, Washington, to the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network. My first thought was acres thinned, tons or cubic yards removed, and hazardous fuels projects completed. This is only a part of what our City, and I’m sure other WUI communities, are doing to serve our citizens who choose to live in areas threatened by wildfire.
A few years ago I attended a six-day Wildland Urban Interface course at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The course categorized the WUI into four environments: Built, Natural, Social and Response.
Annie’s questions have me thinking about what Santa Fe has achieved and how much more there is left to do. How do you eat an elephant? The same way you eat an hors d’oeuvre… one bite at a time. Success can be measured several ways and it really matters what you want your success to say to your community. I go back to the four environments that I use to discuss WUI issues with communities, policy makers, detractors and supporters.
The Built Environment
The first thought is homes, but what about everything else we build in the WUI? Santa Fe uses revenue generated from water bills to secure our water source. Forty percent of our water comes from the 17,000-acre upper watershed. The money that rate payers, water users, City residents and businesses pay goes to protect that precious resource by building fire resistance infrastructure, fuels reduction projects and disaster planning. Santa Fe already addresses roads, hydrants and access to WUI neighborhoods through the existing International Fire Code and is now looking to address how homes are built by adopting a complimentary WUI Code.
The Natural Environment
This category is the most obvious, the most quantifiable and probably the easiest to visualize. Santa Fe Fire Department provides roadside green waste pick-ups to WUI residents. We accomplish about 150 tons per year. We also perform private property fuels reduction, completing about ten projects a year. The City doesn’t own a whole lot of open space but we try and complete about 10-15 acres a year and we hope to be able to implement some prescribed burning on these projects. Restoring fire to the landscape is something I believe needs to be done whenever and wherever possible.
The Social Environment
This category is the most ambiguous and probably the hardest to quantify. Let’s give it a shot: Santa Fe contracted Anchor Point Group to perform a Hazard and Risk Assessment in 2006, and from that we have been performing property wildfire hazard and risk assessments. We have completed about 1,200 out of 10,000 assessments we hope to accomplish in the next five to seven years. Our assessment crews meet with homeowners about one-third of the time while performing assessments. These are the most valuable assessments completed. We create buy-in and establish relationships with our communities.
I meet with about five or six active communities a year and help them identify hazards, priorities and barriers through a Neighborhood Wildfire Action Plan. One community, Monte Sereno, has been recognized as a Firewise Community. My hope is to have an action plan for all our WUI neighborhoods.
The Response Environment
I think most operational agencies have a good handle on this category. The City of Santa Fe’s Fire Department established a Wildland Team in 2000. Our Wildland Team meets periodically throughout the year to train, establish Standard Operating Guidelines (SOG’s) and respond to wildfires throughout the nation through a joint powers agreement with the State. In 2010, with a grant from the New Mexico State Youth Conservation Corps Commission (YCCC), we established a seasonal wildland fire hand crew. This crew is responsible for all our hazardous fuels treatments, green waste pick-ups and property assessments, and for creating buy-in from our citizens and, I think more importantly, from the career, structural firefighters. Last year, with help from the City’s emergency manager Andrew Phelps, we conducted a neighborhood evacuation drill. See the FACLN blog post here.
Looking to the future, we are expanding the use of our SimTable created by RedFish and getting the information collected from our property assessments into the hands of our crews, both wildland and structural. Our hand crew is no longer funded by the YCCC grant, but through wildfire reimbursements. Hopefully, we can convince our City leaders to fund our program through more secure means.
How do I measure success? One achievement at a time. Every little accomplishment is a success and leads to greater and greater achievements. I have been with the City of Santa Fe Fire Department for ten years. When I first started there was an overwhelming list of things to get done, a problem without any clear solution that needed to be solved. I definitely was in over my head. I look back and am amazed at what we have accomplished. There is still so much more that we could be doing, should be doing, and plan to do. I think taking stock of what we have done goes a long way toward predicting what we are going to achieve… one success at a time.