Pacific County firefighters get a jump on disaster by training rural residents

An engine from Pacific County Fire District No. 1 arrives on the scene of a rural home fire. A recent grant from the state of Washington helped firefighters contact over 3,000 homeowners in Pacific County regarding ways to protect their homes.

PACIFIC COUNTY -Earlier this year, members of Pacific County Fire District No. 1 used grant money to contact over 3,000 residents in rural areas to warn them of the dangers of wildfires.

Fire Chief Tom O'Donohue said firefighter David Allsup did a superb job in writing the grant proposal and implementing the program, which seems particularly relevant in the aftermath of deadly wildlfires to our south in California last month.

"We had such a great response that we are in the process of applying for the grant again next year," said O'Donohue. "People living in heavily wooded areas need to know there are some easy ways to protect their homes from fire. This grant gave us the ability to go out and educate people face-to-face."

Pacific County Fire District No. 1 received a matching-funds grant for $4,000 from the state of Washington. The Wildland Urban Interface Grant allowed PCFD1 to trade in-kind services such a man hours and office time for their part of the matching fund. When the total expenditures where added, it turned out that the district only spent around $600 but received $8,000 worth of resources.

"This is really a way the people of Pacific County receive the most bang for their buck," said O'Donohue.

During the summer, members of PCFD1 spent time going door-to-door passing out flyers and talking to homeowners about the dangers of living in heavily wooded rural areas. Residents were also left with a few ideas on ways they can protect their homes in the event of a wildfire.

O'Donohue said that things that may seem like common sense are often over looked, like stacking firewood a safe distance from the home or pruning low-hanging branches so fire cannot spread.

The firefighters also talked about what type of trees to use for landscaping and explained tips to residents on how to remove the drapes from the windows when fleeing a home caught in a wildfire. O'Donohue explained that radiant heat from a fire outside can catch drapes on fire through a glass window.

O'Donohue said that people living in heavily-wooded areas also need to be aware of the accessibility to their home. If the entryway to the property is not clearly marked or if the driveway is too small for a fire engine to negotiate, firefighters are going to have a more difficult time doing their jobs. O'Donohue pointed out that many people who live in rural areas do not take into account that fire engines need at least 14 feet of clearance to safely negotiate a driveway. When branches hang down too low or the driveway is too narrow, all too often equipment cannot make it to the fire fast enough.

"Am I going to drive a fire engine down there and tear off all the mirrors, the light bar and break the windows going down there? No," said O'Donohue. "These people are being educated on how to prevent this from happening. I'm not going to do $100,000 damage to a fire engine to save a $50,000 home. I would do it if I think I can save a life. I will put our firefighters in harm's way to save a life. We will risk a lot to save a lot."

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