SCOUTING AROUND: Community events spread fire awareness
Just ahead of the fall wildfire season, Ranger Fire Chief Mike Taylor, his team of volunteers and other area fire departments spent time educating the public about fire safety while having some fun.
“The more education the public has, the better and safer it is for the fire department,” Taylor said. “The easier it is to do our job.”
On Thursday, the Ranger, Culberson, and Wolf Creek fire departments visited Ranger Elementary School and God’s Little Acres for Fire Prevention Week. They taught children how to safely find ways out of their houses during a fire, and let them see a fire truck.
To make sure children aren’t scared if they do have to rescue them, volunteers even dressed in their full gear and performed “Baby Shark.”
“It was serious, but at the same time, they had some laughs,” said Nevaeh Smith, a Ranger student who got to see the presentation.
Randall Hardy was happy to be one of firefighters to visit the schools – after all, it is because of one of those presentations he became a volunteer with Ranger. His daughter, Rayna Grace, came home one year sharing the safety lessons she learned, then told her dad he should join.
“She loves it. She says I’m her hero now,” Hardy said.
Throughout the rest of the week, the volunteers were also preparing for the Open House at the Ranger Fire Department and Community Center that was held on Saturday. The event drew about 250-300 people.
“We had a great time today,” Taylor said.
Popular attractions were the bounce houses and vehicles (including a six-wheeler from Wolf Creek), but the day included a hayride provided by the Culberson Fire Department, rock painting, games and appearances by Smokey Bear and Sparky the Fire Dog.
“My kids are having fun,” said Shenna Branam, who brought her grandchildren after seeing a flyer one brought home from school.
One game was a fireman- gear challenge, in which seven firefighters raced to see who could put on his gear the fastest. They should be able to dress within two minutes, but Nick Selwyn won the challenge with a time of 1:08.
Taylor said throughout the event, he saw a lot of people asking questions to the firefighters and other emergency personnel on hand. One of his goals was for the public to see what they do and learn.
“I loved it,” he said. “I’m all about community development.”
At night, the N.C. Forest Service led a community meeting about being firewise. Cherokee County Ranger Charles Choplin led the discussion. He warned that people who live in the mountains have to do so safely. Vegetation and dead leaves around homes can be fuel for forest fires.
“We’re looking at reducing the amount of fuel around your house,” Choplin said.
He said creating an area of defensible space around a house can help it survive a forest fire. The steepness of the property’s slope determines the recommended distances for defensible space. For example, a flat property would need a 30 feet distance from forest areas, while a very steep property would need 100-200 feet of space.
To create defensible space, he suggested homeowners remove entire plants and dead vegetation, reduce plant height and low tree branches, and replace flammable, dense shrubs with well-maintained flower beds.
He also warned homeowners to look at their gutters and under their decks and porches for dead leaves, and to remove those leaves.
For anyone building or renovating, he suggested looking for fire-resistant building materials.
He said brush fires are the majority of the calls in the county.
“Start looking at what you can do do to make your home safer,” Choplin said. “By the time you realize you have a brush fire and call 911, more than likely that fire will hit your house and move on before the fire department comes.”
He said while many people move to the mountains for the beauty of the views, he said his job has ruined his perspective.
“I don’t see the beauty I used to see,” he said. “I see fuel.”
He said he is happy to give presentations at homeowners association meetings, and even provide fire safety assessments of subdivisions and individual homes. Communities may even earn the recognition of being named a Firewise Community, like Bear Paw, the county’s first.
“I want each house to be fire safe,” Choplin said.
Taylor added that with colder weather approaching, families should also take care to be safe inside their homes by making sure chimneys are clean, nothing is kept close to heaters and that smoke detectors work. He said the fire department has a grant to help families get smoke detectors in their homes, and the department will even help with installation.
The fire department is even offering a way for homeowners to help emergency crews to find their homes – it has reflective 911 Address Signs that can be ordered for $25, and will be installed by the fire department.
Taylor said he “greatly appreciated” everyone – including his department, other fire departments, and the businesses that donated supplies and door prizes – for making the open house a success. He said he plans on making it an annual event.
For Firewise Community details, contact Choplin at 837-5426. The Ranger Fire Department can be contacted at 644-5677.
Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, firstname.lastname@example.org; fax, 837-5832; or by leaving a message at 837-5122.