Partnering with Local Fire Districts for the Win
Written by Jenny Coe, WA FAC LN Staff
In Skagit County in Northwest Washington State, the Skagit Conservation District (SCD) is responsible for providing technical assistance to communities on how to best prepare for wildfire. One of the services that has been popular with homeowners in this area is the individual property risk assessments and the Firewise plans that are provided at no charge. These individual assessments usually take anywhere from 1 to 2.5 hours where time is spent with the homeowner discussing wildfire behavior, addressing site specific questions and risks, and discussing manageable ways the homeowner can reduce the risk to their home and property. In order to help facilitate action and help homeowners take that first step to implementing some Firewise practices on their properties, everything that is discussed on site is written up in a plan and sent to them as follow up. This service has been a key ingredient to a successful Firewise program in Skagit County; however, it is time intensive. As the awareness and demand for these services grows, the need to broaden capacity to meet those demands grows with it.
As fate would have it, the Alger Fire District in Skagit County was looking for ways to better connect with the communities they serve, and provide training to staff and volunteers in assessing wildfire risk to homes.
Alger Fire District 14 serves a relatively large area in Skagit County. A portion of the area they serve includes designated high risk wildland-urban interface.
Recognizing this, Alger Fire Chief David Skrinde and Fire Commissioner Chris England reached out to the WA State Dept. of Natural Resources who directed them to the Skagit CD for assistance. Recognizing an opportunity to bring in additional help to meet the needs of the communities in the area, the CD was able to leverage state funds to host a training for the Fire District.
On December 6th student volunteers and staff from Alger Fire District, and employees from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), gathered in a community within Alger Fire District’s high-risk area to learn from Skagit CD about assessing wildfire risk to homes. Three willing homeowners offered up their properties for the practice assessments.
The training consisted of a trainer-led group assessment of the first home followed by an opportunity for the students to do their own assessments on two other homes. At the end, the students took turns sharing their assessments with the group and discussing what they observed.
The students now have a better understanding of wildfire in the urban-interface, how to communicate risk, understand what actions can be taken to reduce risk to homes and properties, and can address and facilitate larger scale community action and planning. Trained fire district volunteers can now help meet the demand for risk assessments in the communities they serve and relieve some of the workload for the Conservation District.
Not only do Skagit CD, DNR, and Alger FD 14 benefit from these trainings, but the residents within the community do as well. Firefighters that are familiar with a community, have developed a relationship with community members, and been part of the planning and preparedness process will be able to provide a safer and more effective response during a wildfire; that’s a win for everyone.
Although sometimes it requires thinking outside the box to determine how the roles of agencies and organizations with different missions can collaborate effectively, in the end we all have the same bottom line: a safer and more resilient Washington.