Tennessee Firewise USA

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The Firewise USA® program provides a collaborative framework for neighbors to reduce wildfire risks at the local level. The national recognition program’s annual criteria is designed to empower and engage residents living in wildfire prone areas with a plan and actions that can increase their home’s chances of surviving a wildfire, while also making it safer for firefighters.
The Division of Forestry has developed a State-wide program that is approved by the State Forester.This state-wide program utilizes the Firewise USA® recognition program and science based wildfire risk reduction principles to promote wildfire resilience within communities.
Firewise USA® is a unique opportunity available to America's fire-prone communities. Its goal is to encourage and acknowledge action that minimizes home loss to wildfire. It teaches you to prepare for a wildfire before it occurs. Firewise USA® is easily adapted to different locales. It works in the following way:

  • Wildland fire staff from federal, state or local agencies provides a community with information about coexisting with wildfire along with mitigation information tailored to that specific area.
  • The community assesses its risk and creates its own network of cooperating homeowners, agencies and organizations.
  • The community identifies and implements local solutions.
  1. Wildfires BURN structures in Tennessee every year! It is homeowners and the community’s responsibility to protect itself from wildfire. Assistance is available, but only the community can commit to becoming fire resilient.
  2. Employing risk reduction activities will increase the safety of home, yourself, your family, your pets and other possessions.
  3. Reducing fuels and creating some defensible space round your home will provide a safer environment for firefighters trying to protect your home from a wildfire. 
  4. Creating a safer place for firefighters allows them to fight the fire longer, thus being able to protect your home for a longer period.
  5. Communities are much safer having a community-wide program. Firefighters MUST be able to enter and exit a community SAFELY during wildfires. One point with too much brush too close to the road, or roads too steep, narrow or curvy may stop firefighters from getting to homes in need of protection.
  6. Communitites become a member of a national network of communities that will provide you with a monthly newsletter with the latest information to make your community safer! In addition to the newsletter, you will receive occasional notices when new brochures, flyers, fact sheets are released by various entities. The program renewal standards provide an incentive for the community to stay engaged annually, and over the long term by having to keep the Community Assessment and CWPP current. Keeping residents engaged over the long term is challenging for community leadership. All the things mentioned previously helps the community leaders to keep residents motivate to stay engaged in reducing ignition potential of structures.
  7. While working to become a Firewise USA® recognized community and developing a Community Wildfire Protection Plan, communities have increased status when requesting grant funding. Funding may be available for paying for things such as fuel reduction projects, improving water sources, and improving road signage. For more information on grant programs, see “Hazard Mitigation Program Grant Information and Guidance” on page 15.
  8. Hazard Risk Reduction participation can help with a homeowner’s insurance coverage. USAA Insurance Company is offering homeowner insurance discounts to Firewise USA® sites in several states. Several other companies are looking into making similar offers. These benefits will come to Tennessee as well. Ready,Set,Go!, Firewise USA® and other wildfire hazard reduction and education programs can help improve your Fire Departments ISO rating, which can lead to additional homeowner insurance benefits.
  9. Community wildfire hazard problems such as hazardous vegetation in common areas, substandard road signage, lack of water sources, narrow roads, etc., these challenges must be identified and a plan developed to mitigate them. The Firewise USA® process is a proven method to identify the problems and to develop a plan to lessen them, as much as possible. The Division of Forestry will provide support and assistance to a community in meeting its wildfire safety goals at NO MONETARY COST.

Step 1: Contact the Tennessee Division of Forestry

Becoming recognized a Firewise USA Site begins with the community itself when it contacts a local Division of Forestry office to express interest in the program.

Step 2: Site Visit

A Division of Forestry representative will make a site visit to get a general overview of the community. This first visit is simply a general inspection to see if the community meets the program’s basic criteria of being at risk from wildfire. Often this first visit is unnecessary since the local Division of Forestry employees already know that the community is at some risk. It should be noted that the Division of Forestry has yet to be invited to a community and there not be a need for wildfire risk reduction! So, don’t hesitate to give us a call. Contact your local Forestry Office or one of Division of Forestry’s Hazard Mitigation Specialists. For the Cumberland Plateau west, contact Dave Fiorella at djfiorella@gmail.com . In the eastern portion of the state, contact Leon Konz, at www.leonkonz@gmail.com or Rick Brown at www.greatsmoky@charter.net . Any of these individuals will be glad to help you. The Hazard Mitigation Specialists often also serve as community advisors. Local Area Foresters may serve as community advisors as well.

Step 3: Organize a Committee

Community representatives now create a multi-discipline Hazard Risk Reduction Committee. This Committee must be viewed as a permanent addition to the community, if the hazard reduction program is expected to continue indefinitely. In addition to homeowners, members may include the local fire department, planners, insurance agents, emergency managers, land developers, architects, builders, civic organizations, elected officials, local legislators, bankers, and other interest parties. Committee members should be advised that the recognition process may take six months or more. A Division of Forestry representative will serve as an Advisor to the Firewise Committee. And, if the local fire department is not a member of the Firewise Committee, they must serve as an advisor to ensure that the needed facts are considered in the evaluation and eventual mitigation plan.

Step 4: Evaluation of the Community

The next step is for the Committee to get their community evaluated for its ability to withstand a wildfire. This evaluation includes collecting information on the homes, surrounding fuels, and the community’s infrastructure such as water sources, road characteristics, fire suppression capabilities, etc. This evaluation is best completed by community members, structural fire personnel and wildland fire personnel working together. While not mandatory, Division of Forestry usually facilitates this evaluation/meeting.

In addition to the community-wide evaluation, individual homes should be assessed too. These assessments can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including by community members, volunteer fire departments, Division of Forestry employees, contractors, and other volunteers. The Division of Forestry will provide all the assessment training needed for the volunteer assessors to feel comfortable that their work will be high-quality. The best way to get the job done varies from community to community. Usually with training and guidance from the Division of Forestry Advisor, the Hazard Risk Reduction Committee works with the residents to assess homes.

The Southern Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal(SouthWRAP)is a valuable tool to assist with assessing risk and it is available to communities through the Tennessee Division of Forestry. The Division of Forestry advisor will be able to assist your community with utilizing this tool.More information about SouthWRAP is found in Appendix D.

Step 5: Develop a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP)

The Committee works with wildland and structural fire representatives to complete the CWPP. A collaborative plan created by the fire department, state and local forestry staff, land managers, community leaders, and the public. Your CWPP can be used to identify high-risk WUI areas — where homes and businesses meet forests and fields. The plan also can serve as an opportunity to target potential hazard fuel reduction projects, structure ignition concerns, training needs and prevention strategies, and other issues related to fire protection.
As you work to complete the CWPP you may find that certain parts of it do not apply to your community; it is permissible to skip those sections. By the time you complete the plan, you will have listed the needed Firewise projects in priority order with target completion dates. The Firewise USA Recognition Program mandates one of the solutions to be an annual community Firewise Day. Also, if the home assessments have not been completed by the time the CWPP is written, it is recommended that continuing with the assessments be made one of the projects in the Action Plan.A sample CWPP is found in Appendix B.

Step 6: Apply for Recognition

Once the CWPP has been approved, the community can submit the application to become “Recognized” in the Firewise USA program. The application is completed on-line at https://portal.firewise.org/user/login. Your Division of Forestry advisor is available to assist with this process).

Step 7: Implement the Plan

The CWPP will establish the community’s “Action Plan” with its project priorities and target completion dates. It is the responsibility of the Firewise Committee to oversee the Plan’s implementation. Additionally, it is reasonable for the Firewise Committee to apply for a grant from the Division of Forestry to help defray the implementation costs. If designated projects are considered “Eligible” under grant guidelines, depending on budget status, a community may be eligible for an initial “startup” grant of up to $1000, and grant funds of up to $20,000 the first year.
Refer to “Hazard Mitigation Program Grant Information and Guidance” on page 15 for more details.

Step 8: Renewing your recognition status

Recognition renewal is completed annually by submitting documentation indicating continued community participation to the national Firewise office. Renewals can be processed at any time of year; however, the deadline is no later than November 15. Renewals should be completed on-line which can be located on the Firewise USA website, https://portal.firewise.org/user/login. If you have questions or need assistance contact your Firewise Liaison.

Specific requirements for new community recognition and for community renewal can be found on the Firewise USA® website: www.nfpa.org