The NFPA Public Education Network is made up of fire and life safety education representatives for every state and province who disseminate NFPA information to fire safety educators throughout their state or province.
Periodically, NFPA will be highlighting success stories from network members. In this post we feature Fire Marshal Eric Guevin, Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District. The Lake Tahoe area is a year-round destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. The dazzling waters, mountain peaks and forests make it a magnet for travelers. This stimulates the local economy, but Fire Marshal Guevin says it raises concerns for fire protection district because many of the vacationers aren’t familiar with the area and there’s a certain type of rental they’re booking.
“In Tahoe Douglas one in every five homes was an Airbnb type of rental,” he said. “A lot of the fires we had involved smoking materials not being discarded properly; people visiting didn’t understand the fire risk in our community so they would discard cigarettes directly into the wildland and brush.”
Another danger involved wood-burning appliances. Owners and visitors were not disposing of ashes properly. Chimneys were not being cleaned. Education has been key to addressing these problems, he said.
“We do a lot of education to let the ash cool before it’s disposed of in the regular trash stream. We also put dumpsters outside of our fire stations; the community can dump into the ash dumpsters so that the ash can cool.”
Strengthening enforcement power was another critical step in improving safety,” he said. The fire district was able to obtain a code change—a change of use—so that these short-term rentals fall under the purview of the Authority Having Jurisdiction, the fire marshal. “Because it’s a special operational permit you can put your requirements on there. This gives you the legal right to be in a home, because it is open to the public. It’s not a private domicile, they’re not just living there. It’s open to the public.”
“If they have an occupancy of 10 or more we actually have the owner post their occupancy and post an egress plan on the bedroom door so they know how many people can stay there and how they would get out. We instituted changes to make sure the fire extinguishers are in place, that they are the right size, and that it’s a safe environment for visitors.”
He added that inspections are being done to make sure that smoke alarms are in place, that they’re working, and that they’re interconnected.
Another big concern is making sure visitors know what to do if there is a wildfire. Guevin says the fire district has directed owners to make that information readily available to renters.
“The big thing for us too is we wanted people to know escape plans, how to get out of the house, and also, emergency evacuation plans in the event of a wildfire, what radio stations to tune to and then what routes and safe zones are in their community. They may not be familiar with the area so in each home the owner includes a brochure that has that information for the renter. It’s usually in a binder for them.”
In his role as NFPA Public Education Network Representative Fire Marshal Guevin encouraged NFPA to produce a safety handout for renters of peer-to-peer hospitality services. The Fire Safety at Your Home Away from Home checklist is a frequently downloaded educational tool.