Ready, Set, Go: Behavioral Change and Those Who Make It Happen

For the Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS)—a Ready, Set, Go! (RSG) partner and a prominent force behind the effort to create behavioral change—part of behavioral change comes with understanding the term wildland fire.

It's typically associated with wildland/urban interface (WUI) areas of moderate to heavy forest vegetation. However, history has illustrated that WUI areas spread even further, to parts of the country you may not have thought of.

While Texas has its share of a typical WUI, it also boasts hundreds of thousands of acres of rangelands, grasslands, prairielands and agricultural land scattered throughout, with almost as many ranches and homes in these wide-spread areas. During the 2011 fire season, 31,453 fires burned over four million acres. Though responders were able to save more than 51,000 structures, 5,751 were destroyed—over half of which were residential.

These catastrophic events forced individuals to acknowledge that wildland-fire risk isn't restricted to mountainous regions—WUI is present throughout the Great Plains.

Events like this have prompted a much-needed look at strategies to facilitate change in residents' behavior to become fire-adapted long before fire threatens. Texas is the second most populous state in the nation, and as it continues to grow, more pressure is put on WUI areas.

Our colleagues in Texas have been working diligently with response agencies and communities to implement fire-adapted communities programs such as RSG and Firewise and have begun to see the reward of their hard work. Bob Dickerman is a resident from the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the Texas A&M Forest Service—Granbury jurisdiction. He contacted WUI personnel to thank them for their successful outreach efforts. Mr. Dickerman shared his recent experience of wildland fire threatening his home:

"When we got to the house we saw flames up above the corn in the field just east of us. When I was going around the house looking for anything that might be at risk of burning, I remembered all of the brochures and instruction pamphlets that [TFS] gave me about how to protect my house from fire. And I am thankful that I read them. The house, I felt, was pretty well protected because I had kept the grass mowed and didn't have much combustible material around the house.

"I want to thank you for sharing with me the information on how to protect my property. Also, would you please convey my thanks and gratitude to those that responded so quickly and put out that fire today? I tend to, like many others, take these services for granted. Today, I realized how important they are to the community."

Nick Harrison, RSG and Firewise coordinator for TFS, states, "In any community, if you don’t have the citizens involved and we have a catastrophic fire season like Texas experienced in 2011, we probably don’t have enough resources in the state to handle all these wildfires and protect every home. We need to help educate our property owners and help empower citizens to protect their lives, homes, communities and related natural resources from wildland fire."

Harrison also pointed out that the information contained in the RSG resources is relevant and is being shared among residents across state boundaries.

In spring 2013, a local department hosted an S-130/190 wildland-firefighter training course, which a local reporter attended to cover the training. During the course, Assistant Chief Steve Deffibaugh (Princeton Fire Department, host) gave a brief presentation on the RSG Program and provided the reporter and other attendees with customized Texas RSG Action Guides and supporting handouts. The reporter shared this information with a friend, who resides in Colorado.

Before this communication with her friend, the Colorado resident hadn't heard of RSG, but responded to the tenets ofSet and Go. When a wildland fire was approaching her area, she prepared her family to evacuate the area using the checklists and Personal Wildland Fire Action Guide, and they successfully evacuated safely, even though their home sustained major fire damage.

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