Message about Wildfires from Folsom Fire Chief Rodriguez

2018 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 (January 1 through August 5). Since January 1, Cal Fire has reported a total of 3,981 wildland fires which have burned 629,531 acres. The Folsom Fire Department has assisted with the Statewide wildland 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 January 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 wildland fires. Our personnel aretrained to quickly establish an anchor point and begin extinguishing a wildland fire’s perimeter in a coordinated manner. Our priorities are life safety, property conservation and environment preservation. Our goals are to quickly extinguish a wildland 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 wildland 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 an agency like yours see as vulnerabilities and strengths of the city? What is the risk of wildfire in your community?
Folsom is a beautiful city and is known to be “Distinctive by Nature.” We are a recreation destination on land and water; we have 50 miles of paved trails; Folsom Lake, Lake Natoma, and the American River bound the city, hosting kayakers, swimmers and other water sports enthusiasts from around the region; and we have extensive open space, greenbelts, woodlands, canyons, hillsides, wildlife habitats along creeks and streams. As reported in the Sacramento County Local Hazard Mitigation Plan, the City of Folsom has identified the wildfire threats that affect the city and summarized our geographic extent, probability of occurrences, and potential magnitude/severity. Folsom’s wildfire threat ranges little-to-no threat to very high and the majority is moderate. Due to knowing that 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, fire or otherwise, are available to the public and first responders in the event of a wildfire?
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; these include our Adopt-a-School program, community outreach, National Night Out and our annual Open House in October. 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.

Resources available to our first responders are as follows:

  • All of our fire 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 for vegetation fires.
  • There are no boundaries when it comes to public safety, and we are fortunate to have a Regional Emergency Communication Center (Sacramento Regional Fire and EMS Communication Center) which coordinates resources throughout Sacramento County. Because of this, 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 which allows them to be dispatched to our incidents (El Dorado Hills Fire and South Placer Fire). The State-wide 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
  • Wildland and Structural Fire Training
  • Emergency Medical Services Training
  • Hazardous Materials and Special Operations Training
  • Water Rescue and Technical Rescue Training

What is the number of fire stations available and personnel available to handle a wildfire in the area? What resources are there for combating a potential wildfire?
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). Additionally, 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 do you want people to know in the event of an evacuation of a wildfire that may be specific to your community?
We recommend that our residents always know at least two ways out of their neighborhood. In addition, they should always adhere to evacuation warnings and have a meeting place for their family in the event that cell phone towers are down. The City of Folsom evacuation centers currently includes Folsom High School, Oak Hills Church, The Gathering Place Church and the Sports Complex. Lastly, we strongly recommend that they register their cell phone with Sacramento Alert and Folsom Nixle; this will allow us to communicate with them in the event of a wildfire.

What type of public education program do you recommend regarding wildfire safety?
We urge all residents to prepare by following the “Ready, Set, Go” program:

Ready (Before a fire occurs, Be ready)
Take personal responsibility to prepare long before the threat of a wildland fire, so your property is ready to sustain the threat. Create at least 30 feet of defensible space by clearing brush away from structures, limbing trees, and clearing debris from roofs and gutters. Plan escape routes from your home and neighborhood. Sign up for our local emergency notifications system.

Set (As the fire approaches, Get Set)
Put together a “go kit” with essentials such as medications, a change of clothes and toiletries.

Go (Act Early!)
Take your "go kit" and leave well before the threat approaches. Follow all evacuation orders and re-entry directions.