Once Complacent, now Responsible
"Opportunities" for Fire Districts
From 1736 when Benjamin Franklin created the Union Fire Company in Philadelphia, fire departments from all over this country have served their neighbors well. Starting with a paid subscription service to a tax-based service, the fire service has progressed to the point where structure fires have become increasingly rare. The great Chicago Fire of 1871 and other less notable events spurred increasingly more stringent building codes. In many areas of the country, building ordinances demand residential sprinklers, smoke alarms, and approved building materials. In Southern California, shake roofs are no longer approved and older structures are being tiled.
Complacency has been the norm
The Fire Service has been so successful in reducing structure fires that most cities and rural residents have reduced their funding and support. There has been comfort in seeing all the shiny red trucks at the ready and little desire to fund what wasn't needed. Since its infancy in Los Angeles 30 years ago, fire departments have added paramedic capabilities. The services of medically trained firemen are called upon more often than the need to extinguish a fire.
Until October, 2003
On October 25th, a small brush fire near Ramona began its devastating journey that within a week would change the lives of thousands of property owners and hundreds of thousands of residents of San Diego County. Combined with two other major fires in the County at the same time, Firestorm 2003 was the largest in California history. Every department of the County was involved in serving our residents during the three fires--from health and safety to protecting the environment to assisting property owners in their recovery efforts.
These fires were traumatic not only for those who lost their homes and businesses but also for the rest of San Diego County. The average person woke up to the fact that they were vulnerable to a more deadly type of fire. Structure fires can be knocked down quite readily but wildfires can escalate rapidly and require weeks to contain. The Cedar and Paradise Fires required thousands of firefighters from all over the western United States and even then thousands of homes and dozens of lives were lost.
Revised and expanded ordinances are quickly being enacted to make our communities a safer place to live. Brush clearance distances, building materials, and even the periodic closure of park and forest lands are all helping save wildlife and rural communities. But there is one animal that still hasn't gotten the message: The Human. Do these denials sound familiar?
|"It will never happen again"|
|"Everything's already burned"|
|"Won't affect city neighborhoods"|
|"I'm safe because I have a tile roof"|
The key to a safer community is for the residents to accept more responsibility for their own welfare. Rather than wait for "government" to help, residents need to prepare for the next disaster. Some of the obvious things we can do include:
|Clearing brush at least 30 feet from structures||Refurbish our home with fire safe materials|
|Thinning brush at least another 70 feet||Keep fire insurance up to date|
|Piling firewood away from our home||Make a list of items to pack during an evacuation|
|Plant fire-wise landscapes||Prepare for a lack of electricity and water service|
Two of the more far reaching endeavors that residents can take to prepare are the creation of a Fire Safe Council and a Community Emergency Response Team. Both of these require substantial amounts of effort but can end up saving entire communities.
© 2004 South By Southwest