Technology makes it possible to map fire district’s most hazardous parcels in record time

By DAVID ROSS | June 27, 2019

Every day a lot of men have to shave. No matter how good a job they do they have to do it all over again in a day or two.

Once a year the VC Fire Protection District has to map as much of the district as it can before the fire season begins in earnest and send out letters to property owners warning them if their property poses a fire hazard. No matter how good a job the district does, it has to start the job all over again in the spring. 

It used to be that this was a very labor-intensive process, with firefighters or volunteers traveling to the parcels in question. Inspecting them and then returning to enter the data in the computer. 

Assistant Fire Marshal Jim Davidson changed all that using a bit of software that cost the district about $5.70 to rent, but which is saving hundreds of person/hours. Because of this breakthrough, the district has, early in the fire season, inspected and noted more properties in the first few months than it has ever done of the course of an entire season before. 

Ten weeks into the fire season they are saving an average of three people at $20/hour. “We don’t have enough volunteer hours to waste,” observes Davidson.

Davidson is working with seven volunteers, who include two interns that are taking fire-related courses at Miramar and Palomar Colleges.

The young volunteers are sent out into the field to inspect properties. They carry iPads with them and different types of parcels are color coded. When they inspect a property they designate it red, for a property that requires immediate attention, yellow for a property where attention can be delayed and green for a property with minor concerns. This takes a tap on the iPad and the data is updated on the master computer in Station 1. 

At the same time, someone who has an iPad can tap on a property on the map and immediately see what level its weeds are. 

When you persuade property owners to do needed brush clearance or to take down hanging leaves from the palm tree, you are making things a little bit safer for everyone. For that property owner, and for his or her neighbors. 

“When someone asks how many fires have you prevented,” says Davidson, “We answer: ‘all of them.’ ”

The term “triage” is used by emergency medical professionals to refer to a procedure where those who need the most attention are given priority first over those who are merely uncomfortable. Davidson and his crew use the term “triage” in reference to properties that require immediate attention (“Immediate”); properties that can wait (“delayed”), and properties that are a “minor” problem.

“We’re trying to eliminate the time spent on paperwork and use the volunteers’ time wisely in the field,” said Davidson. “Everything is electronic except the letter itself.”

From the master computer letters can be issued for all red properties.

This week letters went out to 760 residents. The purpose of the letters, according to Davidson, “is to raise awareness of the increased risk of wildland fire that will result” from the tremendous growth of weeds and native vegetation as a result of the rainfall that is three times higher than a normal year. 

The letter gives a gentle nudge: “As the season progresses, Fire District personnel will be re-inspecting and may issue violations for properties that have vegetation issues.”

As of Monday of this week, 4,600 properties have been done since the middle of April. “The best we have done in the past is 1,500 parcels during the whole season,” said Davidson. “Our goal is to have eyeballs on at least ninety percent of the parcels in Valley Center this season. The initial pass is to raise awareness and tell people they need to think of taking action.” 

The remarkable amount of rain this year was the impetus for this program. This season reminds a lot of people of the 2007 season when several wildfires devastated large parts of San Diego County. “The impetus was when the chief bought a brand new truck for ‘community safety’ volunteers to drive,” said Davidson.

The software upgrade Davidson has shared with several neighboring fire agencies. “It’s been so successful for us I wanted it to be successful for others as well.”  

The most senior volunteer is Jim Weaver, who has been helping out at the district for a couple of years now. “The main thing I love about the volunteers is that it takes some work away from Jim Davidson and gives it to the volunteers, so they are able to do about eighty percent of his duties.”

In 2009 volunteers have accounted for 929 hours of combined community volunteers and interns, with volunteers like Weaver and interns like Sam Watson, who is a college student on an educational track to get a certificate in fire suppression.

According to Weaver, “Everybody wants to come here because the program is great.”

Davidson says it is important to distinguish between volunteers and interns. “I try to get volunteers who can be mentors,” he says. “Often retired people who have been successful in business or whatever. I can teach them the fire side and Jim can teach them about life.”

If you would like to learn more, or ask for an inspection of your property, call the fire department office at 760-751-7600.

Article source: Valley News, Click here to read original article