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Highlights from the FAC Reference Guide: Collaboration and Outreach

We continue to promote the contents of the, “Guide to Fire Adapted Communities,” and the additional resources and expertise of the various Fire Adapted Community Coalition members.  The guide's “collaboration and outreach” section speaks to the importance of this in a Fire Adapted Community, creating a strong local team, and available tools for success.  The outreach role of fire departments in a Fire Adapted Community is key.  The International Association of Fire Chiefs' Ready, Set, Go! Program Manager Caitlin McGuire shared with me that, “A fire service members' voice is uniquely trusted, respected, and admired by the general public. The FAC fire preparedness message can save lives, and resonates to the community t hrough the voices of our fire service members.”  Caitlin went onto explain that, “Implementing FAC outreach into your department's educational plan is the simplest way to provide important information to the varied audiences within your community. Not only does this outreach enable you to engage with the residents you serve, but it can provide great relationship-building opportunities with other agencies, local officials, local businesses, and neighborhood associations.” The guide's outreach section provides both information and context on available tools for local success.  These include the IAFC's Ready, Set, Go! Program for fire department outreach; the National Volunteer Fire Council's Wildland Fire Assessment Program for the fire service; and NFPA's Firewise Communities/USA Recognition Program for residents and community groups.  The section also provides a great collaboration and outreach case study of the Towns County, GA, Fire Adapted Communities effort.  Wildfire safety outreach materials for the fire service can also be obtained from the US Fire Administration.  Learn more about the role of collaboration and outreach in a Fire Adapted Community.  Please visit the resources page on Fireadapted.org to learn more or download the guide from here.
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Clearing a Path for People with Special Needs Clears a Path for Everyone

NFPA's Conference & Expo 2014, Las Vegas, NVDispatches from Mandalay – “Clearing a path for people with special needs clears a path for everyone,” was the message on Tuesday at NFPA C&E from Alan Fraser, Senior Building Code Specialist with NFPA.  In his well-attended session on emergency evacuation planning and the 20% of the population missed, Fraser explained to the audience that we must consider what evacuation means to us when we become disabled, and not if we become disabled.  Often referred to as, “people with access and functional needs,” Fraser explained that, in addition at-risk populations like children and the elderly, approximately 56 million Americans deal with speech, hearing, sight, mobility, or cognitive challenges that complicate their ability to receive and respond to evacuation calls.  In wildland fire, whether it be a half-acre leaf fire in a housing development, or a multi-thousand acre “media fire” out west, the risk to residents and resources remains the same.  The ability for all residents in a community to receive important information and have the ability to act upon it in a timely manner is important for their wellbeing, and that of public safety personnel moving into effected areas.  Fraser stressed that in the, “emergency evacuation cone of response” – which starts at the individual and builds out past the home and community, to jurisdiction and beyond depending upon the risk – the role that each resident can play and the requirements for necessary communication between levels and local actors must be identified and connected before an event occurs.  Fire Adapted Communities strongly promotes such interaction and dialogue between the various audiences that face the common threat of wildfire.  Learn more about the role you can play and the connections you can make with others in your greater community.    
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Want extra credit? New ISO rating schedule gives points for fire prevention and education

Fire departments around the country have eagerly awaited the most recent update to the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS) developed by the Insurance Services Office. This system classifies communities according to performance in emergency communications, fire response and suppression and water supply, and has provided these ratings to insurers for more than 30 years. Insurance companies purchasing this data use it to develop underwriting practices – so improved ratings can lead to lower insurance premiums for homes and businesses in many instances.What's new with this long-awaited revision? First, ISO is referencing many more NFPA codes and standards than in the past. This means that as the NFPA documents are revised, the rating schedule will be revised – a great way to ensure that the ratings keep up with new technology and changing practices. Communities all over the US will also be happy to learn that for the first time, they can earn “extra credit” – up to 5.5 points – for demonstrating fire prevention, education and investigation programs. In other words, the ratings – and thus many insurance companies – will begin to account for fire mitigation programs in a quantifiable and creditable way.NFPA has developed a resource list of all the codes and standards referenced in ISO's rating schedule, along with a wealth of resources for fire departments and communities to consider when updating or initiating fire prevention and education programs. Check www.nfpa.org/iso for a list with links to each standard and much more on Firewise®, Learn Not to Burn®, Remembering When® and other fire prevention tools that might give your community a leg up on improving its fire safety ratings.
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Which mulch is the right mulch? Research on mulch and fire helps you decide!

Spring is almost here and time to get out and start doing some yard work. As I stand in front of all of the different types of mulch at my local home repair store, I can't decide which one to use. Which one will be the safest? Which one will last the longest? Which one will look the best the longest? Which one will be the safest? I know, I already mentioned that one but being a firefighter by trade, these things cross my mind -- a lot! There are many choices to use to beautify your landscaping. There are wood chips, pine bark, pine needles, shredded rubber and more. But which one is the safest? I asked an employee in the garden section if he knew of any fire spread ratings of any of the mulches in the store and he looked at me with a blank, faraway, confused look. So, I decided to look into this myself. Mulch has many positive attributes. It reduces the water requirements of plants, cools the soil temperature, controls weeds and soil erosion, and visually enhances the landscape. But a major drawback is that many are combustible, which presents a huge problem in fire prone areas. Embers from an approaching wildfire can ignite areas where mulch is used. If these areas are adjacent to the home, it could be wind up to be a disastrous mix. An evaluation of mulch combustibility was performed in 2008 by the Carson City Fire Department, the Nevada Tahoe Conservation District, the University of California Cooperative Extension, and the University of Nevada Cooperation Extension. The results from this project offer recommendations for uses of mulches in wildfire hazard areas. Mulch can be defined as any material that is used to cover the soil surface for a variety of purposes. They can be classified as organic or inorganic. Organic mulches usually come from plant materials and include pine needles, pine bark nuggets, shredded western cedar and even ground or shredded rubber. Inorganic mulches consist of rock, gravel and brick chips. These inorganic mulches tend not to burn and are safe to use in any setting. Eight mulch treatments were evaluated for three characteristics: flame height, rate of fire spread and temperature. On the test day, the National Fire Danger Rating System value was Extreme. All eight mulches were found to be combustible but varied considerably in the three areas measured. Shredded rubber, pine needles and shredded western red cedar showed the greatest potential for all three characteristics.  Shredded rubber burned at the hottest average temperature (in excess of 630 degrees F at a height of 4 inches) and produced the greatest flame length at over 3 feet. Shredded western red cedar had the most rapid rate of spread, traveling at an average rate of 47.9 feet per minute. It also produced embers that moved beyond the plot perimeter and ignited adjacent mulch plots. Composted wood chips showed the slowest spread rate and the shortest average flame length, usually smoldering. So what does all of this mean? We have a variety of mulch choices in our landscaping – and we need to know the best uses for each choice. Immediately next to your home out to five feet, the best mulch to use is an inorganic one (rock, brick, pavers) or fire resistant plant materials that are well watered and maintained. Composted wood chips are the best choice of the materials tested for residential landscape use. However, they are organic and will still burn. They do tend to burn at the lowest speed and lowest flame length. If this material is ignited, it could still ignite siding, plant debris and other combustible materials. The smoldering of this product could also go undetected by firefighters during a wildland fire event. Shredded rubber, pine needles and shredded western red cedar can have their place in your landscaping design, just further from your home. These materials could be used selectively for landscaping at least 30' from your home. So, with this new information that I have now learned about mulch, I think I'll use some nice gravel with a few larger stones for some accent close to my house and save the other stuff to use away from the house. You never know when a fire is going to approach your home and I don't want to lose the biggest investment I'll ever make. Photo: A home in Rockland County, NY, damaged by fire starting in mulch in flower beds, from a white paper, "Mulch Fires: What Should the Label Say," by Thomas Williams and Michael Lane, at Vermont Chapter of International Association of Arson Investigators
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Exemplary Firewise Lessons from South Africa

Albert Schweitzer once said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” In that spirit, let me share with you some of the wonderful examples I observed from South African communities applying Firewise. From the affluent Western Cape coast to the poorest of villages in the central part of the country, South Africans are overcoming language and cultural differences, extreme poverty, high unemployment and high fire risks to use Firewise principles to their advantage. The government-sponsored Working on Fire program has used Firewise principles from the U.S. to help community residents take ownership of their fire risks, to train people on the safe use of fire, and to turn both fire problems and some of the economic problems around. Working on Fire piloted Firewise concepts in a handful of communities and were provided with seed funding last year for wage incentive programs to train wildland firefighters. This year, the government has seen the results and tripled their investment these successful, community-based programs.  Thankfully, Working on Fire has documented these pilot efforts in a series of short and powerful videos available on the Firewise South Africa website as well as on their YouTube channel, WoFAfriFireNet. Watch and learn what these folks have done in a country with far fewer financial resources than the United States. Hear from community “sparkplugs,” like Levy  Majikijela of Queen's Mercy, and from Working on Fire outreach staff like Zanele Nxumalo from KwaZulu Natal.  I hope the good examples in these videos can inspire communities in the U.S. to work together to become safer from wildfire threats.
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