Photo Credit: Incident Commander Trapper Kid (age 12, @FireFighterKidd) with Liz Davy at the mock fire camp. Photo by Jesse Bender, BLM.
For the last three years Island Park Sustainable Fire Community has hosted Wildfire Awareness Days. We pick the busiest week in the summer in hopes of reaching full-time and part-time residents, as well as visitors. Our intent is to exchange information, offer solutions to homeowners in the area to reduce their risk to wildfire through fuels reduction and evacuation plans, and have fun. Each year we have varied the topics, events and locations trying to hit on what resonates most with our community.
This year we set up a mock fire camp to portray some of the events of a fire. I got the idea from talking with our firefighters. “No one knows what we do or what it is like to be a firefighter,” was a common theme in those discussions. We staffed our camp with: an Incident Commander (IC) who was 12 years old and planning to become a wildland firefighter (see featured photo), Deputy IC, Safety Officer, Information Officers, Operations, Communications (playing radio traffic from a real fire), Finance Section Chief, Time Keeper (who handed out “RedDogs,” which are personnel time sheets), Medical Unit Leader, Base Camp Manager, Security and an Agency Administrator. Volunteer actors from the community, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) played roles throughout the day and, in an effort to give visitors a sense of what it’s like to be on a real fire, we simulated some scenarios such as a wind event that caused the fire to blow up, the evacuation of a subdivision, and a medical emergency. The great benefit from this exercise was how much appreciation our “actors” have and the understanding they achieved about fighting fire.
One thing that attracted visitors was the free food. Idaho Fish and Game, Bear Aware, BLM and Safe Wildlife Passage set up booths and provided information to participants. Smokey drew in the crowds and entertained children of all ages. About 235 folks walked through the mock fire camp. We thought it was a success.
A few things worked really well: free food at our main event and high visibility of the fire camp from the main highway. We will do a few things differently next year to attract more people: advertise Smokey’s presence; place larger signs on the highway inviting the public to join us (some people did not know it was open to the public); and set up a larger sign advertising FREE FOOD. We’ll also solicit food donations earlier in the summer.
In addition to the fire camp, I gave a talk at The Nature Conservancy’s Flat Ranch Preserve on Wednesday night on “Disturbances Common to this Forest.” For next year we are considering organizing a panel discussion with a wildfire survivor, someone who lost their home to wildfire and a firefighter. Potential discussion topics are 1) what worked to save their home, 2) what could they have done differently, 3) what did they do to prepare for evacuation, and 4) what did the firefighters find useful or helpful when they were around the homes?
Editor’s note: After learning about Island Park’s mock fire camp, several FAC Net members said they will try this next year to engage residents in discussions about wildfire preparedness. Let us know what you think about this novel outreach tactic in the comments below.
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