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Fire Prevention and Preparedness Update - August 2018

Fire Prevention and Preparedness Update

With the ongoing fires around the State, the City continues to focus on fire preparedness and prevention in our community, as described by City Manager Jim McCann at the Mill Valley City Council meeting on August 7, 2018. We are currently supporting the firefighting efforts to the north - five of our Fire Department staff have been deployed to assist at the Mendocino Complex Fire in Mendocino and Lake Counties. Battalion Chief Michael St. John has been part of the incident command for this devastating fire, and four of our firefighters and one of our fire engines are deployed there as well.

Mayor Stephanie Moulton-Peters said, “Like all of you, I am on the edge of my chair. Are we doing everything we can do to be prepared? I know how important this is to all the community, Council members and staff. We can’t get enough information and updates on this, so we are going to stay on it.”

City Manager McCann presented several recent efforts in his update. They include:

Vegetation Management – We are conducting more vegetation removal, at a higher intensity, thanks to increased funding approved by the City Council (we nearly doubled typical annual funding to $500,000 this July to allow much more substantial vegetation removal). We have a very successful Chipper Program, and we have been inspecting the City’s Steps, Lanes and Paths (SLPs) and removing overgrown vegetation from the SLPs, which play an integral role in evacuations. We have seen an uptick in neighborhoods participating in brush clearing to reduce fuel loads.

Inspection Program – We conducted numerous inspections of residential and commercial properties as part of our annual Vegetation Management Inspection Program. We thank those residents that comply with vegetation clearance requirements, and remind residents that citations may result from inaction.

Property Hazard Assessments - We have had a significant increase in property hazard assessment requests, where residents can aske fire fighters to come look at their property and give them tips on best practices around vegetation management. Contact us to request an assessment.

Vegetation Management Regulations – This fall, the City Council will consider changes in our regulations to ban or significantly regulate pyrophytic vegetation, plants that ignite readily and burn intensely, and should be avoided or removed.

Tree Ordinance Updates – Our Fire and Planning staff have found some sections of the current regulations that may hinder our efforts to reduce the build-up of vegetation. The Planning Commission will refine the language and then the Council will consider for adoption this fall.

New Fire Engines - The Mill Valley Fire Department has recently taken delivery of a new four-wheel-drive wildland fire engine. The new engine replaces a 20-year-old existing engine. This fire engine will soon be joined by another new fire engine (a standard response fire engine) which will replace a well-used 17-year-old reserve engine.

Fire Access Improvements – Work continues on the efforts to improve Fire access. The Fire and Public Works Departments have assessed a number of intersections throughout Mill Valley for maneuverability, navigation and life-saving response times. They have identified a few intersections that will require tree removal or physical modification to ensure fire engines and other response vehicles can quickly navigate the intersections and make the necessary turns. These projects are proceeding to design, modification and construction.

Neighborhood Get Ready Meetings – In late March and through the month of April, the Mill Valley Fire Department and Emergency Preparedness Commission hosted six neighborhood meetings to discuss lessons learned during the recent Sonoma and Napa County Fires. Over a hundred community members attended the meetings and learned about evacuation, defensible space, disaster preparedness, and the importance of neighbors helping each other in the event of an emergency.

Firewise Communities – There are six Firewise Communities in Mill Valley, and many more have contacted the Fire Department to discuss becoming a Firewise Community.

Emergency Communications – At their May 21, 2018 meeting, Council received an update from Mill Valley Fire Chief Tom Welch and Chris Riley from the Marin Sheriff's Office of Emergency Services on communication tools and protocols related to fire prevention and preparedness. Chief Welch highlighted the success of the five recent Get Ready Mill Valley neighborhood meetings, and gave a comprehensive review of emergency communications and protocols. Watch here.

Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) - On June 14, 2018, the Mill Valley Fire Department conducted a demonstration of an LRAD at the Public Safety Building with all of the Marin County Fire Chiefs in attendance. This test is in furtherance of the Fire Department's initiative to improve the City's readiness and responsiveness to a significant fire event. Next steps include continuing LRAD product evaluation, meeting with product engineers to produce coverage maps, and to develop budget options for the possible purchase of an LRAD, which can cost more than $300,000 for a comprehensive system.

National Night Out – Mill Valley participated in the National Night Out on Tuesday, August 7, 2018. This is a national community-building campaign that promotes community policing partnerships and strengthen relationships between law enforcement and the neighborhoods they serve, by creating a safer and more connected community. Learn more about Neighbors Helping Neighbors.

Marin County Recovery Website - The Marin Agencies Public Information Officers have embarked on a project to create a website that will provide essential updates and information to allow a centrally coordinated, multi-jurisdictional response to the community in the event of a large-scale disaster.

Red Cross Shelter Management Training – The Recreation Department recently conducted a Shelter Management Training to refine their procedures for setting up, running and closing a shelter during a disaster.

National Fire Academy Training – Fire Chief Welch is currently participating in a week-long National Fire Academy in Maryland on the Wildland Urban Interface risk-reduction land use planning and evacuation operations.

“Each of us has a responsibility to make sure our neighborhood is prepared,” Councilmember Sashi McEntee said. “We need to ensure that we know who our neighbors are. In the event of a disaster we will need to pull together and help each other.”

Learn more: Fire prevention and preparation resources.