Firewise and COW safe

February 8, 2010

Though it may be raining cats and dogs, fire safety is never far from a COW’s mind. After all, it’s only a few months until the summer heat dries out our woods and sparks fire danger in our Town and surrounding areas.

The COWncil recently heard a report from the Ad Hoc Firewise Advisory Committee which is focused on fire protection. Its members are Mayor Burow and COWncil members Sue Boynton and Peter Mason, as well as Portola Valley Town Council members Steve Tobin and Maryann Derwin as well as Woodside Fire Protection District Fire Chief Muela, Fire Marshal Denise Ena, Portola Valley Town Manager Angela Howard and our Town Manager Susan George.

This important group has now met five times and COWncil member Boynton spoke to our COWncil on what they’ve been up to and their future plans for improving Woodside’s fire safety. They have developed the following mission statement:

“The mission of the Firewise Advisory Committee is to identify, prioritize, recommend, and assist with the implementation of programs designed to increase the readiness of the residents of the Woodside Fire Protection District to protect life, property, and the environment from the threat of wildfire. This mission is accomplished through educating our residents about the dangers of wildfire, fuel mitigation, and the creation and adoption of firewise building codes. This mission is further accomplished by recognizing and supporting pre-existing disaster preparedness gropus and regional fire safety programs within the community.”

COWncil member Boyton explained that the three “primary prongs” of the Committee’s efforts are public education, fuel mitigation, and the implementation of fire wise building codes. Importantly, the Committee doesn’t intend to supplant already-existing groups like CERPP, but instead work with them. In that spirit, the first activity the Committee wants to undertake is hosting a workshop that is offered by the national Firewise Communities program – “Assessing Wildfire Hazards in the Home Ignition Zone”.

This event will be a “train the trainers” event to train members of the Committee, the Councils, and other possible citizen first responders. It is intended to provide reference materials and basic knowledge as well as training course participants to train residents and homeowner associations to improve our COWmunity’s fire wise safety. The workshop will take two days and the participant list will be (in addition to whoever Portola Valley sends): 3 Town COWncil members, representatives from the Planning Commission and the ASRB, the Town Manager, two other staff members, a Woodside Elementary School parent, a member from each of the seven active CERPP divisions in Woodside, as well as hopefully finding a representative from the four inactive Woodside CERPP divisions: Woodside South, Cañada East, Woodside West, and Woodside North. The fact that there are four CERPP divisions that have “absolutely no organization” was raised as an issue of great concern during the presentation. You can locate your CERPP division here.

The training would cost the Town $130 for each participant. Apparently there is $10,000 set aside in the budget for such trainings. Increasing Woodside participation to over 20 members would raised the cost to $135 per person for some reason. Other members of the COWncil were encouraged to come to the event, and new COWncilmember Kasten also suggested approaching the leaders of Homeowner’s Associations and inviting them to participate in the training.

Mayor Burow stated that it was important that CERPP not think the Committee was trying to set up a parallel organization. COWncil member Boynton also discussed the future potential of expanding the very popular chipper program as another focus of the Committee. The possibility of a joint COWncil meeting on fire issues with Portola Valley was also raised during the discussion, although it looked like scheduling the meeting might be difficult.

Mayor Burow expressed concern during the meeting that should an emergency occur during non-business hours, COWncil members might well reach Town Hall well before staff and be called upon to help direct emergency response before our out-of-Town staff arrives. Susan George gave this a thin, “Possibly…” but it sure seems like a real concern to us as well. Therefore we think that training our elected representatives and CERPP members in these procedures is a very good idea.

The COWncil approved the workshop for March 20th-21st, with COWncil member Mason even stating that if it is a success it can be repeated. We applaud the COWncil for taking this action. We hope that after the initial training, the COWncil will move quickly to set up trainings open to the rest of the Town, in order to help educate everyone and help keep our Town safe in the event of a catastrophic fire.

One Comment on “Firewise and COW safe

  1. Anonymous

    Great article! It is a good reminder that spring is the right time to be clearing defensible space and preparing family emergency plans in advance of the fire season. For more information on defensible space and step-by-step tutorials on how to create fire safe landscaping and a fire resistant home, check out the free resources at:

    Jonathan from Firescaping

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