What's in a name: lessons from a Firewise USA site

Blog Post created by megan.fitzgerald-mcgowan Employee on Jun 12, 2020

scrabble tiles spelling out "keywords"

The Firewise USA program greatly values its participants and partners, and looks for opportunities to share and learn from them.  Through the Sites of Excellence Pilot program, we've been using a more focused approach to learn about why sites are successful and what steps they can take to be even more engaged.


We know that engaging neighbors in conversations can be difficult, and sometimes one wrong word will put someone on edge.  How do we overcome these hurdles?  Bill Santner of Crystal Lake Club (Sites of Excellence participant) shares how changing one phrase broke down a wall and got folks to open up and work together.


Crystal Lake Club

National Sites Of Excellence

Wautoma, Wisconsin


Words Do Matter


In August of 2019, our Firewise committee along with our Wildland Urban Interface Coordinator and County Forester with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the manager of the Denver field office at National Fire Protection Association met to go over the results of our initial efforts to have every household have a Home Ignition Zone (HIZ) Assessment completed. At that point approximately 45% of the properties agreed to have an assessment.


Our task at this meeting was to analyze the feedback we received during the assessment timeframe and then go back to the remaining membership to promote having an assessment done during the remainder of 2019. The main discovery during our discussion was that many members had a feeling that “assessment” meant judgement, punishment and accountability. They were cautious to have a government official come on their property and tell them what they had to do to make their properties safer from wildfires. Some even reported that neighbors were telling them that their homeowners’ insurance companies would be given the results and they could lose their insurance coverage if they did not follow the assessment report findings.


During our meeting one of the Crystal Lake Club Firewise committee members offered the idea that we should change the name of the assessments from HIZ to “Fire Safety Check-Up.” Everyone agreed that this title was more descriptive for the public and was non-threatening to the homeowner. We put out a revised invitation with that message and promoted the Check-Ups at our next Club meeting. The results proved effective. We ended the year with 65% of our member households having a Fire Safety Check-Up by the end of 2019.

We believe this proves that Words Do Matter.


Thank you so much Bill for sharing this lesson learned!  To read more about what words can make difference, check out our Community Conversations blog from a couple of years ago or download our findings.


Is your community ready to take the next step on its wildfire journey?  Visit to learn how you can get organized and become a Firewise USA site.


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