Improve Fire Prevention and Suppression Reduce Hazardous FuelsRestore Fire Adapted Ecosystems Promote Community AssistanceSummary


WGA Goal - Improve Fire Prevention and Suppression

Actions to meet goal

  • Improve firefighting capability/readiness to protect communities and the environment
  • Reduce incidence of injury to life and property resulting from catastrophic wildland fire
  • Expand outreach and education to homeowners
  • Develop a consistent preparedness model among partners

Flagstaff Fire Department

Flagstaff maintains a city fire department with surrounding communities protected by fire districts. There are areas that have no fire protection. The fire districts are a combination of paid and volunteer staff. Flagstaff Fire Department employs 94 firefighters and since 1996 has required firefighters to be wildland trained. They all are equipped in protective clothes, equipment and trucks. The Fire Department has an annual budget of $8 million. The Fuel Management Division started with an annual budget of $100,000 in 1997 and currently is allocated $300,000 annually.

According to the Flagstaff Fire Department Fuel Management Division, the at risk acres around Flagstaff total 140,000. The Flagstaff wildland urban interface (WUI) is much larger than the ½ mile normally attributed to the WUI. According to Paul Summerfelt, FD Fuel Management Officer (FMO), "We look at it from the standpoint of watershed damage…The secondary effects from the fire, which would be the flooding, would cause far more damage than a fire. The other part of it is just the recreational opportunities…If you start to look at public safety and public health, then the interface of Flagstaff is way bigger than the half mile. We could have a catastrophic fire north of town that never burns into the city limits, but is destructive of our community." The economic liability to the town would be enormous if a fire were to occur. A fire in the first part or middle part of May when people are planning their vacations could cost Flagstaff in excess of $65 million from just lost revenues from motels, restaurants, and tourism related activities.

The Flagstaff WUI encompasses several jurisdictions and ownerships. The goal of the Flagstaff Fire Department is to protect all values at risk and reduce wildfire threat across jurisdictions and ownership and at considerable distances from structures. The program has five core areas: land use planning, hazard mitigation, outreach, public education and response training. To accomplish their various activities the Fire Department has received more than $900,000 from a diverse pool of funders including AZ State Land Department, US Forest Service (USFS), Northern Arizona University, WalMart and State Farm Insurance, in addition to the City's on-going budget commitment. Partners to accomplish their activities include individual home and property owners, private business, Flagstaff Unified School Districts, Coconino County Rural Environment Corps, Ponderosa Fire Advisory Council, Greater Flagstaff Forest Partnership, Northern Arizona University, Arizona State Land Department, AZ Department of Transportation, AZ Department of Corrections, AZ Army National Guard, the USFS and the US Naval Observatory.

Since 1996 the city of Flagstaff has worked to reduce the wildfire threat and ensure a sustainable community. In 1996 they created their first demonstration project. In 1997 they hired their first Fuel Management Officer, Paul Summerfelt. In 1999 the city fire department hired a seasonal fuel reduction crew and created a student intern program. They also initiated their first public education campaign. In 2000 an Assistant Fuel Mangement Officer was hired and in 2001 they hired a Crew Boss. In 2002 a volunteer program was started and in 2003 they hired two Fire Technicians.

Since efforts to address the wildfire risk were initiated, Flagstaff has experienced a community-wide paradigm shift that includes enthusiastic public support for the Fire Department's effort. The Fire Department has growing requests for its services. They are a cadre member of the National Prescribed Fire Training Center in Tallahassee, Florida. They have Interagency Incident Management Team Command and General staff duties on regional Type II and Type I team. They provide assistance to other at-risk community and have received recognition as a national model.

Education and Outreach

In 1999 the City of Flagstaff and Coconino County encouraged homeowners to assist in the prevention of loss from wildfire. The Flagstaff Fire Department launched the "Be Prepared" program, which educates home owners about safety education and homeowner responsibility for wildfire prevention. In 2002 Flagstaff started a FIREWISE program to recognize communities and neighborhoods that were doing significant work. Flagstaff Fire Department wanted to create an incentive for existing communities to reduce their risks. In 2003 they created a public education plan that outlines the groups they wanted to address and the presentations they wanted to make. They engaged in a variety of activities including group presentations and door-to-door distribution. They also created a web site funded from a State Farm Insurance grant. Wal-Mart also donated money to create outdoor bulletin boards for each of Flagstaff's fire stations. In 2003 a large community meeting was organized, but with little success. Only eight people showed up. Summerfelt believes the low number was because the community was already well-aware of the wildfire risks. In 2004 the fire department created an education CD, targeting developers, real estate people, the insurance industry, homeowner groups with video clips, still photos and basics for educating homeowners about protection of their house.

Flagstaff Fire Department has been successful in securing funds through AZ State Land Department and the National Fire Plan to support these various education and outreach activities including a 2001 Grant for $30,000 for multi-media campaign to increase public awareness and recruit for at risk programs, a 2002 Grant for $27,500 for a multi media campaign to increase public awareness about private land treatments in city and a 2003 grant for $7,000 for community outreach and recruitment the development, production, display and dissemination of FIREWISE material and presentations at various public events


Fire Codes, Planning and Zoning Regulations

In 1996 the roof construction ordinance was changed to adopt a class B roof-essentially a limited combustible roof-- and water requirements sufficient for fire protection. In 1997 and 1998 the Fire Department started including FIREWISE construction elements into the development process. In other words if a new subdivision came in, it would be a FIREWISE community—limited combustible siding, closed eaves and soffits, wire mesh screen all over venting, in addition to thinning the property. Flagstaff adopted the 1997 version of the Uniform Fire Code in 2000 and they feel there is sufficient language in that code to support and enforce their efforts on hazardous vegetation mitigation, roofing material, driveway access and other aspects related to wildland fire concerns. Consequently, there have not been any major changes in Flagstaff to the zoning, planning or fire codes. They are currently looking into adopting the 2003 version of the International Wildfire Code.

Codes are implemented and enforced through the permit and building process. Fire inspectors are part of that process. The Fire Department signs off on specific items for the permits and occupancy of site permission. From an enforcement standpoint, if mitigation is not completed on a new project, fire inspectors can stop the project. If mitigation is needed at an existing site, and an individual chooses not to correct it, then the Fire Department will take them to court. The Fire Department will act through the city attorney who has authority under the Uniform Fire Code. The approach has been very effective and successful. According to Assistant Fire Chief Jim Wheeler, "No one to whom we've applied these conditions have ever complained, much less appealed".

Ponderosa Fire Advisory Council and Interagency Cooperation

The Ponderosa Fire Advisory Council (PFAC) was formed in 1989 as a consortium of local fire agencies, fire districts, municipal fire people, USFS, AZ State Land, and National Park Service. The Ponderosa Fire Advisory Council is a 16-member group that includes all fire agencies within the greater Flagstaff area, along with Coconino County, Northern Arizona University, and the National Weather Service. PFAC meets once a month to discuss and act upon a variety of wildfire issues. These include joint training sessions, public education activities, hazard assessment and response needs, general information sharing, special activities and projects, development of standard operating procedures, and purchase of specialized equipment. While their principal mission is sharing information, over time that has evolved to include response planning to emergencies and coordination of response to emergencies and sharing of resources. It has also evolved to include some fuel management work on each other's properties. Through PFAC and other partnerships there is good interagency cooperation. For instance, the Fuels Management Division works closely with the Forest Service. They trade personnel on prescribed burns and work together on join burns. They have also worked on contracts for Forest Service thinning. USFS will respond to fires within the city and the city responds to fires for USFS.

US Forest Service

The USFS is engaged in outreach to the Flagstaff area primarily through the GFFP. Heather Green is the USFS's full time liaison with GFFP, according to her, "We are sharing information regarding a cost share project that the GFFP is promoting with the City of Flagstaff for fuels reduction on private land. Our fire prevention staff is actively engaged with the local communities and forest users on a regular basis. We also host, co-host and participate in community meetings".

The Greater Flagstaff Wildfire Community Plan (GFWCP)

In December 2003, President Bush authorized the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA). HFRA requires communities to develop a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) in order to receive priority funding for fuels reduction projects in their area. The Greater Flagstaff Wildfire Community Plan is currently in draft form, waiting to be signed by city, county, state and federal agencies. The plan outlines response of organizations, as well as identifies risk level of WUI land (high-med-low) and prioritization of treatments with a blind eye to who owns the land. In addition, the CWPP can be used by land managers to justify grants and receiving money in addressing their wildfire threat.

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