‘Firewise’ program hits snag

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, January 14, 2004

MONTICELLO — A program initiated by county firefighters to helpprotect houses against wildfires has stalled, officials said.

“It’s not completely scrapped, it’s just got to be reorganized,”said Lawrence County Fire Coordinator Robert Patterson.

Topeka-Tilton Volunteer Fire Department Chief Royce Renfroeagreed.

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“Down the road we may still do it, but it doesn’t look feasibleright now,” he said.

The Firewise Home Protection Program was initiated by countyfirefighters after an instructional meeting on wildfires sponsoredby the Mississippi Forestry Commission late last year.

Under the plan, firefighters would visit each home in theirdistrict, make recommendations to the homeowners on ways to maketheir homes safer against fire, and label the home as firefighter”friendly” or “unfriendly.”

The friendly or unfriendly tag would have no consequences otherthan inform for firefighters. They would know whether the home hadcharacteristics that could pose a danger to them, such as being ahouse surrounded by timber with only one driveway.

“It’s an awareness program,” Renfroe said. “It would makehomeowners aware of potential fire dangers and give us moreinformation on the situation we could expect to find when we arriveat a fire at that location.”

It is important to know the dangers and “what you’re up against”to prepare for a fire, Patterson said.

“Anything that takes the surprise out of a situation isbeneficial,” he said. “You never know what you’re going to findwhen you get there. All you know is you have a fire. This wouldgive us time to plan and prepare on the way there.”

The plan, which has wide approval and strong support amongfirefighters, has some residents skeptical, but the primary reasonfor the delay in its implementation is the sheer volume of timenecessary to canvas a district, Renfroe said.

“I’d be scared to guess on how long it would take,” he said.

Patterson agreed time is a critical factor.

“They haven’t got the time as volunteers to do it,” he said.

Patterson estimated it would take close to a month for avolunteer working eight hours a day every day to cover a singledistrict.

The estimate does not include time talking to homeowners andadvising them of prevention steps they could take to make theirhomes more resistant to fire, he said.

The plan has been delayed, Renfroe said, but it is importantmessage and alternative means of informing the public are beingconsidered.

“We want to do some programs to educate the public on what we’retalking about before we try to implement it,” he said. “I’d like toreally start in the schools at the higher grades. If we can get thekids talking about it, it might get the parents interestedalso.”

Unfortunately, he added, it’s a bit late in the school year toattempt anything now.

“I think it’s probably too late to do it this year,” he said.”I’d like to do it by the next fire season, but I’m not sure we canget everything ready by then.”