Wildfire Season is Coming! Be Prepared!

Stopping the forward spread of the deadly COVID-19 is on the forefront of everyone’s mind. Rightfully so. Practice safety at all times.  Here’s IAFF’s COVID-19 Guidance for firefighters:  https://www.iaff.org/coronavirus/.

There is another deadly danger ready to spread and that’s wildfire season. It is around the corner ready to spread quickly! With COVID-19 this will create even more challenges for the fire service and will require community help and cooperation more than ever.

Unfortunately this has included the postponement of multi-agency wildfire drills and training, prescribed burns, community awareness meetings postponed as well as mitigation inspections delayed. This could not come at a worse time as we round the corner into what will likely be one of our most dangerous wildfire seasons yet with the rainfall received!

Depending on how long this lasts, we could be behind the curve in our preparation and mitigation efforts. There are some things you and your agency can do now to help prepare for this year’s fire season.

Here are a few simple things you can start with:

  • Have your first-in mutual aid agencies come and tour your Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) area. You don’t need to get out of your rig. First, Identify a staging location, set a date and time and have the engines and BC/Division Chiefs report to the staging location. Stay in the rigs. Obtain a tactical frequency for training and drive through your first-in wildfire threat zones with mutual aid agencies. Identify all hazards and areas of concerns as well as staging locations, helispots, safety zones, access/egress, narrow streets etc.  Click here: https://firescope.caloes.ca.gov/ICS%20Documents/WUI-SD.pdf
  • Take photos/videos of your WUI to share with second/third in agencies via skype/zoom. If they can’t come to you, bring it to them!
  • Update/develop wildland pre-attack plans. Include staging locations, identify target hazards such as power lines/chutes/chimney’s etc, one way and narrow streets, Heli-spots, temporary/long term base camp locations, command post locations, hospitals, etc. Share these pre-attach plans with your mutual aid agencies.
  • Find an abandoned home that you and your crew can practice structure protection training on. Click here:  https://www.nwcg.gov/committee/6mfs/wildlandurban-interface-structure-protection
  • Start community PSA’s now! Preparedness is key. The sooner you get out in front of the public, the better the cooperation. Don’t wait until the last minute. Click here: https://www.readyforwildfire.org/ 
  • Contact your local news both print and televised media to help get the word out of your preparedness campaign. Click here: https://www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/working_with_the_media/
  • Ensure your agencies wildland policies are up to date and share them with surrounding agencies. Click here: www.Lexipol.com
  • Ensure your personnel have emotional and wellness support available to them. Click here: www.Cordico.com
  • Work with local and regional vendors for food/water/supplies. Many companies/corporations are stepping up and willing to assist during these times.
  • Train, train and train some more! Every agency has specialists. Find a specialist in your agency or a neighboring agency to provide distance learning training. Use Skype/Zoom and other ways to discuss strategies with neighboring agencies.
  • Make sure you incorporate your local law enforcement, Red Cross, public works, parks department, hospitals and merchants in your plan. The more prepared everyone is the smoother the incident will flow.
  • Incorporate your City manager, local, state and federal and elected officials as well as department heads within your community. Do you have plans in the event your EOC needs activation. Click here: https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2018/11/17/4407/state-and-federal-partners-respond-california-wildfires
  • Just as important as the above, make sure you keep your community informed on what your doing. They need and want to know what you’re doing to protect them from both COVID-19 and wildfires!
  • Do you have medical screening available for your personnel and surrounding communities?

Other things to consider: What about base camps? Evacuation locations for the public? Will they be safe if COVID-19 still exists? What if homeowners can’t afford to clear hazardous vegetation from their property? Do you have a way to assist them financially? Are you working with the Red Cross, utility companies, animal shelters, private vendors and will they be staffed enough to respond and support your efforts?

These are just a few things to consider. Get together with those in your agency and add to the list above. Take action NOW! We preach preparedness as key in mitigating disasters, we too need to prepare now, it is our responsibility!

Like a wildfire once the forward progress of the fire is stopped, the threat remains high. Hot spots and embers can reignite unburned fuel and we’re back in the game of significant spread. The same with the Corona Virus. We may flatten the curve and reduce the spread, however the threat remains until it is completely contained and with no threat of re-ignition.

I certainly don’t have all the answers, and you’re all smarter than me. This can be the start for you and your organization and expand on it. I know I’m missing things here…

Take some time so prepare now as we’re in it for the long haul, and as they say “fail to plan, plan to fail!”

About Chief Sam DiGiovanna

Sam DiGiovanna is a 33-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as fire chief at the Monrovia Fire Department and currently serves as chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale, Calif.