TRIAGE: noun:…a system used to sort…adj.:…to allocate a scarce commodity on the basis of likely benefit. Usually applies to providing medical care or food distribution during an emergency, but can be applied to any service or action where benefit determinations are necessary…American Heritage Dictionary.
In 2007, the Glen Haven Area Volunteer Fire Department (GHAVFD) joined with the two area Homeowner's Associations to develop a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP). The plan outlines several goals and priority activities which were determined to be of greatest benefit to the community should a catastrophic Wildfire event ever occur. Increased water storage, community education, access, and signage were some of the items addressed. A process of continuing fire risk analysis was also advised as part of the educational effort. This process is called "Property Triage", or "Home Triage", and is used by many Fire Districts in the western United States. Home Triage is a tool used to evaluate the likely success of firefighting efforts attempting to save structures during a Wildfire event.
In rural areas, the availability of firefighting resources becomes a huge issue during Wildfire incidents. Small local Fire Departments are usually responsible for the initial attack operations within their jurisdiction. If the incident cannot be controlled by the local VFD, additional resources are requested from a variety of agencies, including adjacent Fire Departments and County, State and Federal government agencies. As these resources arrive and are put into action, the local agency usually demobilizes its own manpower and equipment to focus on new priorities such as structural protection, evacuation and handling other emergency calls.
In the worst case scenario, a catastrophic Wildfire in the area would require the evacuation of large numbers of people. The Glen Haven EPLAN is a guide for the GHAVFD to implement such an evacuation. The process would be time-consuming, and would require most of the Department's available manpower. While the evacuation was being completed, the process of protecting those properties from fire would also be undertaken.
At last count, there are approximately 500 structures in the Glen Haven area. If only a quarter of those structures were in jeopardy due to Wildfire, 125 structures would require protection. The best possible way to accomplish this would be to position a Fire Engine at each of those properties. Each Engine requires a minimum of 3 Firefighters to be effective. The total need would be 375 Firefighters manning 125 Fire Engines. The GHAVFD doesn't have 375 Firefighters, much less 125 Fire Engines. Even if that number of people and apparatus were available, there simply is no way for that many Fire Engines to negotiate our roads and secure enough water to supply them all. So what are we to do?
IN A NUTSHELL
Once again, the term triage. Home Triage will help the GHAVFD identify those properties which present the highest likelihood for successful Firefighting effort. It also helps owners identify hazards and areas needing improvement. Both entities benefit. The process is voluntary. Owners request the triage survey. GHAVFD doesn't conduct a property survey in secret, without the owner being present. Determinations are not kept in a secret VFD file somewhere, and are not final, or unchangeable. A simple application of logic is all that's necessary to understand the issue.
A property which is accessible stands a better chance of being saved than a property we can't get an Engine to. A property where some effort has been made by the owner to mitigate hazard has a better chance of survival than one where many hazards exist. Firefighters want to save every home, and if any single property were the only one jeopardized, every GHAVFD volunteer would be there risking life and limb to save it.
On the other hand, when many homes are at risk, which homes survive will depend mainly on which have a reasonable chance of survival. The GHAVFD Volunteers can only provide the information which is used to determine a reasonable chance of survival. We want to help property owners improve the chance part. By doing so, we improve our chances for survival.
With limited resources and time being the constraining factors in terms of structure protection, the GHAVFD asks for an effort from property owners to help ensure that properties are "protectable". Applying "FireWise" practices can create defensible space and reduce hazards. These actions can buy the Firefighters precious time when they are faced with trying to provide protection for numerous properties.