Preparedness Corner
June 2004
By Paul Vircsik

Hi Neighbors,

For over five years it has been my pleasure to write this column. To serve the community and to inform my neighbors how to live safely in the wide open spaces that we do. I have been reading the past articles in the archives and unless you feel otherwise, they seem to have dealt with every issue I feel pertinent. So this will be the last regularly scheduled monthly addition of the Preparedness Corner. From time to time I might produce an article of importance that is relevant to our ranch, and if anyone feels they need information, let me know and I will address the subject. It has been a pleasure seeing the results of some of the subject matter within the ranch and Marlene and I have been truly blessed with some wonderful friends and neighbors.

For this last column I thought it important to take some excerpts from the Incident Response Guide produced by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group and prepared by the Incident Operations Standards Working Team. The first part is the Structure Protection Checklist. Basically it states what we look for to assess whether a structure is protectable or not. This determines if we stay and try or pass it by and leave it to the fire. Put your self in our shoes, read the checklist, and decide if you could stop safely and try to protect your structure AND if it is protectable. I know in the past I have addressed this area but the season is here again and maybe just maybe an “official” list might spur some activity for those of you who choose to live dangerously. The second part is an Operational Leadership Guide and is aimed towards our Firefighters for their safety and growth. We all could learn from this list.

Structure Assessment Checklist

Address/Property Name
Numerical street address, ranch name, etc.
Residents on site?
Road Access
Number of lanes, vegetation clearance
Road grade greater than 15%
Creek crossings, clearance problems, drivable surface
Turn outs, turn arounds
Bridges- adequate support structure for engine weight
Building Construction
Roof- asphalt, fiberglass, tile, rock, metal OR wood shake, debris covered, other easily combustible material
Eaves- covered and little overhang OR exposed with large overhang
Other features- exposed wooden structural elements, overhangs slope, attached wood deck, lightweight flammable curtains, large windows facing heat source.
Defensible Space
100’ vegetation max 18” high and 30 foot complete vegetation clearance.
Flammable trees adjacent to structure
Other combustibles adjacent to structure
Structure located on narrow ridge, in a chimney, narrow canyon, or mid-slope and defensible space less than 200’
Hazardous Materials
Pesticides, herbicides, flammable material or other unknown storage.
Power lines or transformers near apparatus placement areas
LPG tanks near apparatus placement areas or structures
Available Water
Hydrant or standpipe, water storage tank with valve, swimming pool with access
Estimated Resources for Protection Plan
Number and type engines, water tenders, crews, dozers
Evacuation needs

Also know that if your home meets some of the positive criteria and the next home meets more and there are limited resources (one engine) your home might be passed for the more protectable. Sorry but that’s the reality in a large scale event. Remember, in any event, “OUR” fire department is going to respond to the first location and then possibly with sufficient resources fan out. If you are not in the immediate area of the initial call, you might not see fire protection for quite some time, if at all.

For our Firefighters and owners, here is a list to help you stay sharp in any event and if you read between the lines, how to be a better neighbor.

Operational Leadership Guide

The most essential element of successful wildland firefighting is competent leadership. Leadership means providing purpose, direction and motivation for wildland firefighters working to accomplish difficult tasks under dangerous, stressful circumstances. In confusing and uncertain situations, a good operational leader will:
TAKE CHARGE of assigned resources.
MOTIVATE firefighters with a “can do safely” attitude.
DEMONSTRATE INITIATIVE by taking action in the absence of orders.
COMMUNICATE by giving specific instructions and asking for feedback.
SUPERVISE at the scene of action.

A Good Leader Must:
Be technically and tactically proficient
Take charge when in charge
Adhere to professional standard operating procedures
Develop a plan to accomplish given objectives
Be responsible for your actions
Accept responsibility for team performance
Credit subordinates for good performance
Take full responsibility for and correct poor performance
Know yourself and seek self improvement
Know the strengths/weaknesses in you character and skill level
Ask questions of peers and superiors
Actively listen to feedback from subordinates
Know your firefighters and look out for their well being
Put the safety of your subordinates above all other objectives
Take care of you subordinates physical, mental, and spiritual needs
Resolve conflicts between individuals on the team
Set the example
Share the hazards and hardships with your subordinates
Don’t show discouragement when facing setbacks
Choose the difficult right over the easy wrong
Make sound and timely decisions
Maintain situation awareness in order to anticipate needed actions
Develop contingencies and consider consequences
Improvise within the commander’s intent to handle a rapidly changing environment
Keep your firefighters informed
Provide accurate and timely briefings
Give the reason for assignments and tasks
Make yourself available to answer questions at appropriate times
Ensure the task is understood, supervised and accomplished
Issue clear instructions
Observe and assess actions in progress without micromanaging
Use positive feedback to modify duties, tasks, and assignments when appropriate
Develop a sense of responsibility in your firefighters
Clearly state expectations
Delegate those tasks that you are not required to do personally
Provide early warning to subordinates of tasks they will be responsible for
Build the team
Conduct frequent debriefings with the team to identify lessons learned
Recognize individual and team accomplishments and reward them appropriately
Apply disciplinary measures equally
Employ your team in accordance with its capabilities
Observe human behavior as well as fire behavior
Consider team experience, conditioning, fatigue, and injury limitations when accepting assignments
Consider individual skill levels and developmental needs when assigning tasks

I think all of us can benefit from these two guides and I hope everyone can learn something from this article as well as the archived articles.

Well that’s it for me. Marlene and I will see you all on the ranch.

See you soon,

Meet the author: Read about Paul Vircsik's background