Earlier this month, I, along with approximately 20 wildfire safety advocates from all corners of the State of Oregon, participated in an all day workshop to assist Oregon State University (OSU) with the development of an innovative program called the “Citizens Fire Academy” (CFA).
During the workshop, participants worked together to 1) address important problems or needs, 2) determine if the program can realistically train and manage a cadre of volunteers, and 3) outline meaningful and measurable outcomes of the program.
The ultimate goal of this program is to create fire adapted communities, and the key objective is to get wildland/ urban interface (WUI) landowners to take responsibility for themselves and their homes, thus preparing their properties for wildfire. OSU believes this can be accomplished through a combination of technical and financial assistance, outreach and education, and regulation. As we all know, financial resources for fire suppression and fuels reduction are limited and in some cases, decreasing. OSU believes trained volunteers can provide important contributions to outreach and education.
You may be asking if such a program exists elsewhere. While similar programs do exist throughout the U.S., we were unable to locate the exact same fire prevention model. The closest model we found was the Master Gardner Program Model at OSU, which offers quality informative wildfire safety education to citizens and in exchange, these citizens return to their community or be assigned to another location to assist residents and to promote wildfire safety projects.
Our workshop group, led by OSU faculty, broke out into four groups to identify the needs, and actions and outcomes of the Citizen Fire Academy. Group leaders summarized their ideas and thoughts and then posted them in front of the classroom to elicit discussion from the participants.
There are still some challenges to be addressed, the biggest being convincing others that wildfires are and will continue to be a huge threat to many communities, but we’re confident the message will resonate.
Next steps for future involvement and sustainability of the program are underway, and we’re excited about attending future meetings to further establish this Citizen Fire Academy concept. Stay tuned here for additional updates.
In the meantime, Oregon State University has an extension program that addresses many aspects of wildfire. Check out their website to learn more.