Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) has been involved with the Ready, Set, Go! Program since 2009 when they, along with Ventura County Fire Department, were integral in the creation of the RSG! Program. The successes of the program in these departments led to RSG being piloted and gradually expanded nationally. The International Association of Fire Chiefs in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service launched the RSG! Program in 2011.
“OCFA is proud to be one of the founding departments that helped create the RSG! Program,” said OCFA Fire Chief and IAFC Wildland Fire Policy Committee member Brian Fennessy, “It has been an effective tool in engaging our community to participate in wildfire risk reduction through dialogues, the program has, between OCFA and the residents and businesses we serve.”
To adopt the program in their community, OCFA conducted extensive door-to-door canvassing for several months to inform residents about the RSG! Program. Due to their efforts, the department was able to reach 44% of the residents who lived within the fourteen high-risk communities they targeted. The program resulted in 28% of households making home improvements that increased the home’s survivability in case of a wildfire.
The department found that the RSG! Program is effective in creating awareness of wildfire risk among residents and identifying areas where home hardening is necessary. Two-thirds of residents who were aware of the program chose to have a Wildfire Home Risk Assessment conducted on their residence and after the assessment 96% of those residents made some change to their home.
As part of their initial outreach efforts, OCFA created materials for residents including a DVD, postcard, door hanger, assessment form and the first Ready, Set, Go! Action Guide. The action guide was the most accepted material among residents. This still proves true today as the English National Action Guide is the most requested material by members of the National Ready, Set, Go! Program.
The department has continued to expand their community outreach by creating a web-portal that provides a shared awareness between the department and homeowners of the risk of wildfire. The portal contains an online home assessment form, wildfire hazard maps and resources related to the three tenets of RSG, including these Ready, Set and Go videos.
Due to these efforts, the department has seen a significant increase in resident engagement. Now they present to at least one homeowners association meeting each week. They also work closely with property managers to get RSG information on community websites and in monthly community newsletters. According to OCFA Assistant Fire Marshal Nick Pivaroff, the goal of their program is to educate everyone, so they understand their risk and can make the best decisions to protect themselves, their family and their property against the threat of wildland fire.
The department’s outreach efforts were shown in October 2017 when the Canyon 2 Fire threatened the community of Cowan Heights, one of the neighborhoods that was part of the 2009 RSG! Program rollout by OCFA. The fire was able to be stopped at a house where the department has spent time educating the resident about fire resistant construction and fuel modification zones. The department’s outreach and homeowner opting to have their house built with fire-rated roofing, exterior sprinklers and fire-resistant vegetation played a significant role in saving their home.
The day after the Canyon 2 Fire, the department continued their outreach in Cowan Heights. They went door-to-door to talk to residents about what they could do to prepare for future fires and conducted home assessments as needed.
Successes like this have led other existing communities to work with OCFA to update or create new fuels modification plans to meet current standards.
“Residents are less reactive and more focused on preparing before a fire, being more situationally aware when fire threatens, and willing and able to evacuate when needed because of the RSG! program,” said Chief Fennessy. “The tools we have developed over the years here in Southern California and working with the National RSG! Program have been invaluable to the success of the program and we encourage all fire departments to take a look and see what tools might help them implement RSG.”
OCFA’s commitment to outreach has also yielded results from the builders in their community. The State of California has chapter 7a building codes, which are wildland-urban interface building codes.
According to Assistant Fire Marshal Pivaroff, it has become a standard practice for builders in their communities to build to 7A building code standards for all new homes in the WUI, not just the most highly threatened areas. He cited the City of Irvine as an example. Irvine has areas that are not in the very high-risk area, but builders have made the decision to build homes to 7A standards there to reduce the risk from flying embers.
The successes of Orange County Fire Authority’s RSG! Program shows how communities, partners and stakeholders can be motivated though outreach and education to act to prepare themselves against the threat of wildland fire.
To learn more about Orange County Fire Authority’s Ready, Set, Go! Program visit, https://www.ocfa.org/RSG.
The RSG! Program is a free program that can be adapted to departments of all sizes and budget. Join today on our website, www.wildlandfirersg.org.