Photo Credit: Going door-to-door in the Ken-Caryl Valley community. Photo by Anthony Lodice
Written By: Steve Orr, Firefighter/Paramedic and Wildfire Mitigation Specialist
West Metro Fire Rescue in Lakewood, Colorado is a professional fire and EMS agency along the western edge of the Denver metro area. West Metro includes significant Wildland-urban interface areas, with conditions similar to those affected by the 2013 Waldo Canyon Fire. Several wildfires in our District in the past 5-10 years have raised awareness of the wildfire risk in our district, but very little mitigation activity has occurred. We have found it challenging to engage with our citizens on the topic of wildfire mitigation and preparedness. Many communities either have multiple homeowner associations or inactive ones, so attending these meetings would not be effective in reaching many residents. In 2015, we hosted open houses at our fire stations for Community Wildfire Preparedness Day, but they were not well attended by citizens. Our fire chief has asked station crews to engage more actively with the residents of their response areas, so members of the Wildland Team decided to try a door-to-door campaign.
We chose two weekends in May for the initial door-to-door effort, in conjunction with Community Wildfire Preparedness Day. We revised and printed a customized Ready, Set, Go! Action Guide, with help from a grant from the RSG program, and collaborated with the City of Lakewood to develop a brochure with some Lakewood-specific information. We chose specific neighborhoods to target based on their wildfire exposure, from both our Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) and from using the Colorado State Forest Service’s Colorado Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal. Crews assigned to stations in the wildfire-prone areas of our district received training from leaders of the mitigation education program, who recently attended the National Fire Protection Association’s “Assessment Hazards in the Home Ignition Course” with funding from a FEMA grant.
As luck would have it, Denver has been receiving a fair bit of moisture this spring and May 7 was no exception, with overcast skies, cool temperatures and light rain. We understand the challenge of discussing wildfire mitigation in such conditions, but we reminded citizens that soon the weather will be warmer and drier. In fact, we emphasized that right now is a great time to perform mitigation measures, rather than waiting until “smoke is in the air.”
Crews were well-received in the neighborhoods they visited, and many of our residents commented on how nice it was that we made the time to come talk with them. In addition to handing out the brochures, the key points we emphasized were:
- It is YOUR responsibility to protect yourself, your home and your family from wildfire.
- Wildfire is inevitable, home destruction is not.
- Focus your efforts on the Home Ignition Zone.
- Talk with your neighbors about wildfire mitigation.
- If you have questions, please come by our fire stations and let us know!
In the two communities that are recognized Firewise Communities, we steered people toward their Firewise boards. In the other neighborhoods, which account for the majority of our district, we directed residents to other resources, such as the Firewise Communities website. Another objective was to identify community “spark plugs” who are willing and able to organize their neighbors. Several such citizens were identified, and we will reach out to them directly.
It’s hard to measure the effectiveness of such a campaign, but we are hopeful it will prove to be a step toward action by homeowners. Firewise and Ready, Set, Go! Messaging can be a good place to start on the journey toward fire adaptation. Other steps we plan to take include performing individual home assessments and updating our CWPP. We understand that FAC is a process, and we will continue to make progress helping ours the residents of our district learn to live with fire.
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