Firewise: The First 20 Years
NFPA Journal®, January/February 2007
By Kenneth Tremblay
The success of Firewise is measured many ways even though we faced another record year of fire starts and acres burned in 2006. We are seeing successes. The number of homes lost to fire this year is less than past averages. Through the hard work of many, we are making a difference in the wildland/urban interface and making it safer for those who choose to live in that environment.
The national Firewise Communities program is a multi-agency effort designed to reach beyond the fire service by involving homeowners, community leaders, planners, developers, and others in the effort to protect people, property, and natural resources from the risk of wildland fire - before a fire starts. The Firewise Communities approach emphasizes community responsibility for planning in the design of a safe community as well as effective emergency response, and individual responsibility for safer home construction and design, landscaping, and maintenance.
Firewise is intended to serve as a resource for agencies, tribes, organizations, fire departments, and communities across the
Firewise Communities is part of the National Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Program, which is direccted and sponsored by the Wildland/Urban Interface Working Team (WUIWT) of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, a consortium of wildland fire organizations and federal agencies responsible for wildland fire management in the
In September 1986, a national conference was held in
The task force, which included John Marker of the USDA Forest Service and NFPA’s Gary Tokle, defined the problems and established goals and objectives. A steering committee was formed that included the fire service, forest service, insurance industry, government, wood products industry, research organizations, and land management agencies. The task force also recommended a conference to set items for a national agenda. Those agenda items included creating public awareness of the problem; encourage the formation of partnerships among problem solvers and interest groups; and focus on the development of local solutions to the wildland/urban interface problem.
Eventually, the agenda items became the backbone of a Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Protection report.
Following the conference, additional projects were undertaken. In 1987, “Wildfire Strikes Home! Report” was produced and distributed to more than 25,000 people to increase awareness of the problem. In addition, a video written and produced by Jim Smalley, now Manager of Wildland Fire Protection at NFPA, was shown to targeted groups and at a national press conference held in
A management team was created that included Roger Erb, who represented several federal land agencies. Also serving were John Bethea of the State Foresters, Robert Swineford of the Forest Service, and NFPA’s Tokle. He led the program through its second year.
Again, fires ravaged the western
A conference was held in
For example, state and local fire agencies were organizing and educational programs were being held for elected officials. Wildland agencies and structural fire services throughout the country were beginning to develop new relationships that benefited fire suppression and fire prevention operations. The USDA Forest Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Association of State Foresters, U.S. Fire Administration, and NFPA emerged as leaders of the program.
Efforts were needed to maintain interest and expand the program. Several videos were commissioned with topics that included developing interagency cooperative programs at the local level, and making a residence safe from wildfire. Printed material were written to support visual media and distributed freely. A media relations campaign also placed the program in public view.
By 1989, new leadership took the program even further. The program continued to produce public relations tools to meet the goals of the program including several case studies: Analysis of the Black Tiger Fire,
“We were very lucky to have an excellent steering committee at that time. They were very forward thinking and open to new ideas,” says former NFPA coordinator Bill Baden.
“The program developed a broader vision, that continues today, in order to provide information and ideas for homeowners to the fire service and beyond. “
Firewise Reaches For the Next Level
As the program was nearing its 10-year mark, a walk through the Monrovia Nursery in
The Firewise Communities program now had a library of brochures, publications, and videos with committed and successful results reaching a diverse group of people, however, it was felt that more needed to be done. Embracing new technology, a decision was made to offer as much of the program as possible on www.firewise.org. The site has seen many changes since it was launched in 1997. It now offers information and resources for property owners, planners, builders, and firefighters.
Jim Smalley, the Wildland Fire Protection Manager at the NFPA and program manager of Firewise Communities, came on board in 1996 and continues today. Smalley brings together people who share new ideas and vision to the program, while organizing the production that bring ideas into reality. One program, piloted in 2001, is the Firewise Communities/USA recognition program.
“When adequately prepared, a house can withstand a wildland fire without the intervention of the fire service. In fact, a house and its surrounding community can be both Firewise and compatible with the area's ecosystem,” says Smalley.
The Firewise Communities/USA Recognition program enables communities in all parts of the
The recommended size for a participating Firewise Communities/USA site approximates that of a homeowners association. The size of a Firewise Communities/USA site is not governed by an arbitrary, fixed rule but rather by the limit of its effectiveness. Successful Firewise Communities/USA participation requires homeowner commitment. To date, 178 sites in 34 states have achieved recognition and most maintain that status year after year. Firewise Communities/USA is a simple, three-legged template that is easily adapted to different locales.
The series of National Firewise Communities Planning workshops offered in over 30 locations from 1999 through 2003 was another milestone. In all, over 3,000 people from 1,080 communities in 47 states participated in these landmark workshops. Regional coordinators gathered folks from various disciplines including; homeowners, fire suppression, builders, landscape architects, planners, and government people. The objectives of the Firewise Communities Workshop were to; improve safety in the wildland/urban interface by sharing responsibility; create and nurture local partnerships; integrate Firewise concepts into community and disaster mitigation planning. Although Firewise Communities Planning Workshops are no longer offered, communities can run their own workshops using the same resources offered on the Firewise Website. Look under the category, “Firewise You Can Use” from www.firewise.org.
Today and Our Future
In 2004, we held our first national wildland/urban interface fire education conference in
This article was originally published in the December 2006 edition of the Firewise Newsletter.
In this Section:
|Technical committee addresses glass jet bridges
The committee revisits a controversial decision regarding airport safety.
|The Impact of Testing Changes in NFPA 10
What needs to be replaced and what does not
|Firewise: The First 20 Years
The success of Firewise is measured many ways even though we faced another record year of acres burned in 2006.
|Wrap-up of the National Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Education Conference
The return to Denver, Colorado for the second conference was a success on many levels
|Managing Aircraft Hangar Construction
One potential disaster scenario for aircraft hangar operations is fire inside the hangar that threatens the large quantities of fuel.
|Managing Aircraft Hangar Construction Photos