Expert: How to conduct a wildland fire assessment
How firefighters can conduct home assessments to protect residents’ properties from wildfires and to become a more fire-adapted community
Preparing for and attacking a wildland fire requires more knowledge than just putting wet stuff on the red stuff. It also requires a different mindset from attacking structure fires.
And it becomes even more complicated when that wildland fire reaches a neighborhood or community in your protection area.
That’s where wildland-urban interface expert Ron Roy comes into play.
In his presentation at International Association of Fire Chief’s Wildland-Urban Interface conference in March, Roy will discuss his wildland fire assessment program. The WFAP is a joint effort by the U.S. Forest Service and the National Volunteer Fire Council to provide volunteer departments with training on how to properly conduct assessments for homes located in the wildland-urban interface.
Roy’s seminar, "Wildland Fire Assessment Program," will be held March 7; the early registration discount is available until Feb. 8.
Roy has been a volunteer firefighter in central Washington since 1973. He’s currently the division chief at Douglas County (Wash.) Fire District 2 and the chairman of the wildland committee for NVFC.
He has years of experience fighting wildland and forest fires in the central Washington area.
Firefighters, he says, need to be trained to conduct assessments since the amount of wildfires are steadily increasing each fire season.
How to train
Like any other kind of fire training, a wildland fire assessment course must be done prior to a fire approaching.
As with structural fire home inspections, preparing in advance will allow homeowners to make changes to increase the chances of their home’s survival.
"Homeowners are building more and more homes in the wildland-urban interface and the fires are getting bigger and more frequent," Roy said.
During Roy’s session, he will break down a four-part train-the-trainer course that can be used to teach the fundamentals of performing home assessments with and for residents living in communities that are susceptible to wildfires.
The four-part course includes understanding the problem, identifying the zones, evaluating the home and looking at available resources.
He’ll also provide attendees with a toolkit and supplemental resources after the session.
"We have a printed notebook for the trainers with all of the materials needed to teach, along with a memory stick of the PowerPoint presentation and materials covered," he said.
By providing that critical information, attendees can then go back to their respective departments and teach their colleagues how to conduct a wildland fire assessment. Roy recommends also inviting others in your area to attend, local foresters, city and county leaders and other officials who deal with development in the WUI.
In the WUI zone
How often, or how little, you conduct assessments is dependent on the size of your district and available manpower.
By conducting assessments early, firefighters can help homeowners address structural problems as well as prepare their communities before the next wildfire.
Some departments, according to Roy, aren’t doing these important and life-saving assessments at all. That’s what he’s hoping will change once more information about WFAP is distributed and shared across fire departments who respond to WUI incidents.
"I'm sure there are a handful of departments keeping up with this, but there’s not enough," he said.
And once firefighters begin conducting regular assessments and alert a homeowner that they’re in a WUI zone, there’s an educational process that needs to be followed.
"Many people believe a wildfire won’t happen in their backyard," Roy said. "Sad to say, but it takes a large and devastating fire for people to really understand. And even then, not all of them want to make a change."
Roy said that while it may take firefighters a lot of effort to get their community to band together, it will pay off in the end and hopefully help reduce the risk of residents’ home being damaged or destroyed.
At the end of session, he’s hoping attendees will use the wildland fire assessment program at their department to help raise wildfire awareness, protect homes, neighborhoods and entire communities from future wildfires.
You can learn more about the WFAP here, where you can find customizable documents to help implement and market the assessment program and also an online data tracking system to record how many assessments have been performed and recommendations made to residents.
This article, originally published Jan. 5, 2016, has been updated