On a recent visit to Kentucky with Michele Steinberg, I had the opportunity to meet with Kentucky Division of Forestry staff about their Firewise initiatives, and to visit with a very active Firewise Communities/USA site.
Jennifer Turner and Cindy “CK” Bennett act as “Team Firewise” for Kentucky, with support from state forestry leadership. They assist communities over a two-to-three-year process to bring them to recognition. In the first year, they deal with assessments and education. During the second year the prospective community will start some small mitigation projects and continue with the educational portion. By year 3, the community takes on larger mitigation projects and become recognized.
CK told us about numerous Firewise activities she supports, including a kids’ program that deals with wildland fire safety. Her “Mark, Rake and Clean” program mirrors the home fire safety “Stop, Drop and Roll” initiative. For wildfire safety, children are taught to Mark- your mailbox, Rake- your leaves and Clean- your gutters and yard.
Jennifer described the state’s Firewise Grant program for fire departments. Most of Kentucky’s Firewise Communities are run by the Volunteer Fire Departments. These departments use the grant money for items including signs, equipment for mitigation or education, etc.
Jennifer and CK brought me out to Rowan County to meet County Emergency Manger and firefighter Danny Blevins with Route 377 Fire Department. Danny showed us the station and equipment that they have and then did a presentation on how they brought several communities into the Firewise Communities/USA program and some of the mitigation work they have completed. Partnerships are important in the county. For example, since partnering with Firewise, the Road District responsible for mowing along roads now mows a wider path and will assist in mitigation projects for communities.
The Lake Lewman community has partnered with its bordering neighbor, the Daniel Boone National Forest. Residents have been given permission to do some mitigation work to the areas around homes that are next to national forest land. They also have cleared some of the old logging roads to be used as a fire break. Both partners see this as protecting their land from fires originating on either side of the border.
The fire department participates in local events such as fish fries and various school programs to get the Firewise word out to the public. The county has a reverse 911 system and has created specific groups that can alert areas to wildland fires or any emergencies. They have also attached pictures of Firewise Community homes and assessment levels of these homes to the 911 system. This lets the dispatcher know what the area is like and they can then send it to the apparatus computers so the emergency personnel can see what they are dealing with.
Danny and his group are very active in the community and looking for different areas that require attention. In his words “Firewise brought us (the fire department) into the community. We are on a first name basis with homeowners in the area and know most of the danger areas in the community. A disaster is not the first time that you want to meet a homeowner and try to communicate to them what they need to do. The Firewise Communities/USA program has allowed us to educate the area before a fire.”
After visiting the Lake Lewman community, Danny took us to several other areas where they have completed mitigation work. We discussed the possibility of these areas becoming recognized. Before I left, Danny took us to the area of the Island Fork Fire that occurred on April 6, 1999. This fire claimed the lives of 2 firefighters, Kevin Rex Smith and Kenneth Allen Nickell. This fire was only 153 acres in size but burned with extreme fire behavior. The trees around the memorial still are charred and if you lean on them, your hands still will be blackened from the charring.
The trip to Kentucky was a great trip and I was able to make some friends that I hope to keep in touch with and be able to help bring in more recognized Firewise Communities.