Message about wild fires

By: Folsom Fire Chief Felipe Rodriguez
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This year has proven to be a very busy wildfire season for California and is currently on pace to be even busier than 2017. According to the State of California Incident Information webpage, almost five times as many acres have burned in 2018 throughout Cal Fire’s jurisdiction compared to the five-year average for the same period – Jan. 1 through Aug. 5.

Since Jan. 1, Cal Fire has reported a total of 3,981 wild land fires which have burned 629,531 acres. The Folsom Fire Department has assisted with the statewide wild land firefighting efforts throughout 2018 and currently has personnel assigned to the Ferguson Fire. We will continue to assist other communities during what has been dubbed as the “New Normal” regarding the extended length of the wildfire season.

Folsom has seen its share of fires throughout 2018, but has been fortunate to have contained all of them to a minimum size. Since Jan. 1, we have effectively mitigated 109 fires within our city limits, including 34 grass or brush fires. It is my expectation that our personnel are well-trained and properly-equipped to combat any fire we are faced with. To date, a calculated, aggressive fire attack has resulted in the rapid containment of each of our wild land fires. Our personnel are trained to quickly establish an anchor point and begin extinguishing a wild land fire’s perimeter in a coordinated manner.

Our priorities are life safety, property conservation and environment preservation. Our goals are to quickly extinguish a wild land fire while keeping it to a minimum size. Our objectives are to control the perimeter and defend structures. Together, these priorities, goals and objectives, have allowed us to effectively mitigate the fires we have recently faced and the fires we will likely face in the future.

Due to the statewide fires, we have received questions regarding what we are doing here in Folsom to prevent and respond to wild land fires within our community. The following are some of the most common questions we have received and the answers to them. We hope they are helpful for you and assist with instilling confidence regarding the great work your fire department does to enhance and protect the quality of life for our residents, business owners, visitors and employees. 

When it comes to wildfires, what does Folsom see as vulnerabilities and strengths of the city?

Folsom’s wildfire threat ranges little-to-no threat to very high and the majority is moderate. Knowing we have open space and areas with vegetation within our city, we have plans in place; partnerships with neighboring agencies; and well-trained personnel with the proper equipment to mitigate potential fires we may face. Additionally, our Fire Prevention Division takes a proactive approach to notify landowners within our city regarding our weed abatement requirements, while taking a coaching, counseling, enforcement approach to mitigate dead vegetation. Lastly, we partner with the City of Folsom Parks & Recreation Department, who manages weed abatement programs within the city's designated open spaces and Landscape & Lighting districts.

What resources are available to the public in the event of a wild fire?
Public resources include our public education program, including information on our department’s Disaster Preparedness webpage and associated links within it. Additionally, we participate in several community events throughout the year to inform the public regarding fire safety. We also have active Facebook and Twitter pages. As always, our fire stations are always open for a tour, to obtain information or simply to meet our firefighters.

What resources are available to first responders in the event of a wild fire?

All of our stations have a fire engine capable of responding to vegetation fires. All personnel assigned to our fire stations are cross-trained as firefighters and paramedics, including annual refresher training. There are no boundaries when it comes to public safety, and we are fortunate to have the Sacramento Regional Fire and EMS Communication Center which coordinates resources throughout Sacramento County. Folsom is able to request the closest resources, no matter which fire department they come from, to assist with any emergency incident we have within our city; this includes air resources (helicopters) and dozers. Additionally, we have mutual aid agreements in place with our neighboring jurisdictions, with El Dorado Hills Fire and South Placer Fire, which allow them to be dispatched to our incidents. The statewide mutual aid system also provides for additional resources in the event our area requires it.

What type of training do your firefighters participate in?
Our firefighters participate in intensive training including multi-jurisdictional annual training, automatic aid and mutual aid training, wild land and structural fire training, emergency medical services training, hazardous materials and special operations training as well as water rescue and technical rescue training.

How many fire stations are available and personnel available to handle a wild fire in the area? What resources are there for combating a potential wild fire?
Folsom has four fire stations, with a fifth station opening in September, and 21 personnel on duty per day (24 personnel when our fifth station opens). Due to our regional response model, we have hundreds of personnel available to respond to any of our incidents. Our dispatching system is built to accommodate up to five alarms for any vegetation fire. After five alarms, we can continue to request individual resources as needed (strike teams, overhead, air resources, etc.). This type of response model allows for thousands of personnel to respond to one of our incidents if needed.

What should people know in the event of an evacuation of a wild fire that is specific to Folsom?
We recommend that our residents always know at least two ways out of their neighborhood. They should always adhere to evacuation warnings and have a meeting place for their family in the event that cell phone towers are down. Evacuation centers in Folsom include Folsom High School, Oak Hills Church, The Gathering Place Church and the Sports Complex. We strongly recommend residents register their cell phone with Sacramento Alert and Folsom Nixle. This allows us to communicate with them in the event of a wildfire.

Felipe Rodriguez is the chief of the Folsom Fire Department and can be reached at 916-984-2280.