Hear how West Metro Fire Rescue increased their labor capacity to accomplish a residential fuels reduction project. Credit: Steve Orr, West Metro Fire Rescue

Topic: Collaboration Fuels treatment / Prescribed fire Type: Success Story / Lessons Learned

Overcoming Capacity Barriers to Fuels Reduction Projects

Authors: Steve Orr

West Metro Fire Rescue completed a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) in 2007. We have been actively engaged in community outreach and education since then, but fuels reduction projects have been limited by capacity and funding. Two communities, Roxborough Park and Ken-Caryl Ranch, have achieved Firewise USA recognition, created mitigation plans, and started implementing fuels reduction projects. But much work remains to be done in those communities, as well as several others.

In my time as a FAC Net member, I’ve learned that collaboration and creativity are essential to addressing those challenges. So when I heard about Team Rubicon during a FAC Net webinar (thanks Emily!), I quickly got in touch with Michael Lloyd, their regional manager in Denver. I liked what Michael said when he described Team Rubicon: “We have lots of volunteers who are eager to do work.” That was music to my ears!

Green Mountain Park was the obvious choice for the inaugural project location. There was a series of unexplained fires there during this past winter. The resulting press coverage made it somewhat of a “high profile” location, so we hoped working there would generate attention and momentum for future projects. The City of Lakewood Open Space manages the park, and we have a great relationship with them, having collaborated on numerous trainings and incidents over the years. A member of the Green Mountain Civic Association also championed the event and was a valuable partner. The end project was a collaborative effort between Team Rubicon, West Metro Fire Rescue, the city of Lakewood, and the Green Mountain Civic Association.

We chose a project location within Green Mountain that was easily accessible and convenient in terms of staging our equipment and personnel. The project site also had steep slopes, poor access to suppression resources, and a history of human-caused ignitions. Our main objective was to remove the dense brush immediately adjacent to property lines. Many of the homes in that area were built in the 1960s and 70s and have wooden fences attached, wooden decks, and vulnerable home ignition zones.

During the week prior to implementation, we performed door-to-door outreach to both notify residents of the project and to provide them with information about steps they could take to reduce their wildfire risk. We used a customized Ready, Set, Go! brochure that we distributed in other communities during an outreach effort last year. If you’d like a copy of the brochure, contact me through my user profile.

Our public information officer utilized our social media outlets and the Civic Association’s communications network; several local television channels also provided day-of coverage for the event.

Team Rubicon handled the majority of the logistical and operational functions. My role was to represent West Metro and assist with communications. Staff from the City of Lakewood Parks served as resource advisors or operated the chippers and dump trucks. Sixty enthusiastic and hard-working Team Rubicon volunteers assisted them, and in total, we removed vegetation that yielded around 50 cubic yards of wood chips. Lakewood will utilize these chips for various landscaping projects. There’s still plenty of work to be done on Green Mountain, and Team Rubicon plans to return this winter to finish. The event received good press coverage and we also produced a video of the event (see below).

Overall, it was a successful event and helped build new relationships and strengthen existing ones. We couldn’t be more pleased with the work of Team Rubicon and look forward to future projects with them. However, we did identify a couple of shortcomings in our internal and external communications. Busy schedules limited our door-to-door outreach campaign to a single afternoon, and as a result, we were not able to directly notify all of the area’s residents. We also faced conflicting messages among the operations crew regarding the exact guidelines for what, and how much, vegetation to remove. As a result, one tree, which was housing nesting birds, was removed, which prompted negative feedback from one resident. We acknowledged our mistake, as the removal of that tree was not crucial to our project’s objectives. Going forward, we will ensure that we have an agreement on treatment guidelines and a single point of accountability who communicates these with the crews.

So, what’s next?  We’ve already connected Team Rubicon with two other communities in our district and hope to perform similar projects there in the coming year. We’re working with partners on an application for a state grant, and are planning to conduct a prescribed fire in another Lakewood park. We continue to seek opportunities to collaborate and creatively overcome the challenges that we face. FAC Net and its members continue to inspire us and offer valuable resources to our department and many others. We are pleased to be able to participate and learn from all of you.

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5 thoughts on “Overcoming Capacity Barriers to Fuels Reduction Projects”

  1. Rebecca Samulski says:

    Great story Steve! I want a local team rubicon. It looks like they brought alot of skill and energy with them.

  2. Jennifer Hansen says:

    Thanks for sharing! Our veterans are absolutely amazing how time and time again they answer the call to serve. Yay Team Rubicon!

  3. Steve Orr says:

    Thanks, Becca! It was a great first project toward what I hope will be a valuable partnership. One of the benefits of living in the big city, I guess!

  4. Steve Orr says:

    Thanks, Jennifer. I was really impressed with their willingness to serve. Since they have predominantly been a “disaster response and relief” organization, mitigation is a great fit for times when they’re not so busy and for the many volunteers who are limited to local operations. And they have a desire to make a difference in their own region and community.

  5. Gloria Erickson says:

    Thanks, Steve. Good article. I recently heard of a local effort done by Team Rubicon. One of my contractors is a member. Thanks for the reminder to contact him and learn more.

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