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Fighting the Fire Storm with Fire Education

Public understanding of wildland fire can be as unpredictable as the fires themselves. With recent and ongoing major wildland fires in the American South, Southwest and Mountain states, fire life-safety education officers can play an increasingly important role in the fire service. This is seen both in department-focused fire training and locally focused public-education initiatives.

Since its national launch in March 2011, the IAFC’s Ready, Set, Go! Program has increased its partnerships with such efforts. It provides departments in the wildland/urban interface with resources for engaging in the important dialogue with residents on fire preparedness and situational awareness.

Life-Safety Educator Einar Jensen, South Metro (Colorado) Fire Rescue and secretary of Fire Safety Educators of Colorado (FSEC), says a large obstacle he often sees is misinformation amongst the public and a common belief that wildland-fire mitigation equals clear cutting of all residential landscaping. When he or a firefighter can connect one-on-one with residents or with a group at civic meetings and explain wildland fire—employing local pictures and simple demonstrations of what preparedness efforts entail—the message resonates.

Jensen sees the Ready, Set, Go! Program and its tenets as framing this information easily for firefighters who are new to interacting with the public on pre-event preparedness and providing departments that already have robust outreach efforts a new method and resource kit to explain the issue to residents. The IAFC is working with the Colorado Fire Chiefs Association, FSEC and other organizations to increase Colorado fire department involvement in the program.

Department-focused fire training on wildland fire is just as important as public outreach. For a chief, your personnel can be the local ambassadors for wildland-fire understanding, but they may need help themselves to fully understand and articulate the issue and the local threat. Wildland-Urban Interface and Prevention Coordinator Tyre Holfeltz, at the Utah Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, explains that he utilizes Ready, Set, Go! resources in statewide efforts to help increase firefighter understanding of wildland fire terminology and public interaction so everyone is on the same page.

One misunderstanding by many in the fire service surrounds the impact and scope of wildland-fire ember fronts, how they travel and their risks to structures. A recent live-fire research demonstration by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety vividly captures this ember risk.

Lucian Deaton is the wildland-fire program manager in the IAFC’s National Programs department.

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