Island exchange: Saipan firefighters learn Firewise from Hawaiian educator

Blog Post created by michelesteinberg Employee on Oct 7, 2014

More than a decade ago, former NFPA staffer Denise Laitinen, a journalist and community and fire education specialist, moved to Hawaii and instituted local Firewise programming in cooperation with the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife. Under the auspices of Firewise Communities Hawaii, Denise recently conducted an unprecedented week-long Firewise training program in the Northern Mariana Islands on the island of Saipan. She’s sent a great story (below) as a guest blogger for us to include here on the Fire Break blog. Mahalo, Denise!

Firewise Training from Hawaii to Saipan:

Saipan is located in the Western Pacific Ocean and is one of 15 islands of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a U.S. island territory. It’s located about three fourths of the way between Hawaii and the Philippines and is a little less than 6,000 miles from the west coast of the U.S.

The second largest island in the Mariana Island archipelago, Saipan is about 12 miles long and 5.6 miles wide covering 44 square miles. The island community is home to slightly more than 48,000 people. The CNMI Fire Department is under the jurisdiction of the territory’s Department of Public Safety and has seven fire stations spread out across the island.

In the U.S., Saipan is most well-known for the Battle of Saipan during World War II, a long and hard-fought battle that changed the course of the war in the Pacific. More than 24,000 people (civilians and soldiers) died in the battle that led to Japan’s surrender. With its sandy beaches and warm tropical waters, today Saipan is a popular tourist destination for visitors from Russia, Japan, Korea, and China. However, the tropical island does have wildfire issues, especially in wildland/urban interface areas.

CNMI Fire has a trained wildland strike team (some of whom were recently deployed to California’s Happy Camp Fire). Recent brush fires locally in Saipan have resulted in the loss of homes. As a result of those losses, CNMI implemented an island-wide brush abatement program. The department requested my help as the Firewise Communities Coordinator for Hawaii to provide training to the wildland strike team and help the department create a Firewise public safety outreach campaign. In August, I conducted a week-long series of Firewise training workshops for fire department personnel, including some specialized Firewise training for the CNMI wildland strike force team. This training included the basics of how to conduct wildfire hazard assessments, a full day of field work conducting wildfire hazard assessments, and a half day of training on Firewise landscaping and how to build a Firewise home. 

During the training, I provided CNMI fire department with 500 Firewise brochures, 200 landscaping checklists, 100 FW bookmarks, 25 booklets on creating Firewise communities, 25 Firewise catalogs, 25 Firewise door hangers, and numerous Firewise videos and materials which are available free of charge from the NFPA Catalog in the wildland fire section.

The training also covered the basics of conducting a Firewise public education campaign. As part of this training, firefighters developed customized public education materials, including five radio and four TV Public Service Announcements (PSAs). I selected one of the class team’s PSAs and read it on the air during a live radio interview in which I was interviewed along with CNMI Fire personnel. The radio host liked the PSA so much he asked CNMI Fire’s Jay Jairam if he would bring by the other PSAs so that they could also be read on the radio. 

FW in CNMI paper.7.14
Coverage of Firewise training in Saipan

As part of the training, the class was broken into groups. On the last day of training, each group gave a presentation on Firewise as if they were speaking to residents at a community meeting. At the end of the training, each participant completed and successfully passed the Firewise online training course for conducting wildland hazard assessments. 

Photo credits: Denise Laitinen, Firewise Communities Hawaii. Top photo, Denise Laitinen with members of CNMI fire department.