On Fire: Proper information is important in case of disasters | SierraSun.com
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On Fire: Proper information is important in case of disasters

Mike Terwilliger, Truckee Fire Chief

I am sitting at my desk now looking out the window at the final wisps of smoke off the Martis Fire.

I am going over so many things in my mind about what happened but the one that keeps surfacing is the obvious effect a fire like this has on the community near the fire. With the fast-paced information age we are in, how do I quench the thirst for information we all have? Quite simply, how do I address the questions many of you asked the first few days: is it going to burn my neighborhood, do I need to evacuate and where do I go? Sounds so simple, but it is not. Let’s address each question as it applies to this fire.

Is it Going to Burn My House?

In this case the question was specific to Floriston, Hirschdale and Glenshire. The answer is yes, no, and no. We knew it was going to hit Floriston so we evacuated the people and told them where to go. We did not think it would hit Hirschdale or Glenshire so no evacuation notices were given by the fire service.

In this community you will be told if you need to get out. We will use Channel 6, KUNR, and more importantly the most effective method: face-to-face talk. The law enforcement agency in your area will do this in most cases. If you do not hear from us to move then you are safe.

You are probably mumbling right now, “why not tell us we are safe?” We try, but you must remember that we have so many things to do during a fire it is not easy to take on a task that is not an issue. Keep in mind we had calls from every community that could see the smoke asking if they should leave. If we tried to tell everyone who was concerned, not much fire fighting would get done.

In other words if you do not hear anything from normal sources, it is OK.

Do I Need to Evacuate?

This question is tied to the first. We will not tell you to prepare to evacuate. I don’t know who does that. There is a whole new subject on overall preparedness to evacuate every day. We will tell you to evacuate when it is time. In most cases it will not include the whole subdivision. It may be a specific area that will be effected by the fire. We may tell houses on the perimeter that will get hit to move until the fire stops. In all cases we will try to be specific about our desires. You might ask why we ask you to go. It is simple and for two reasons. One, your life may be in danger. Most commonly it is because you will get in the way. You may want to stay until the fire hits. The environment becomes so violent that you change your mind and leave right when we are the most active. You are then in the way and you might get hurt as well.

Where Do I Go?

We will tell you when it is time to leave. More importantly we will tell you where to go and which route to take. Now you may chose to go to a friends house and you can. The reason we give a location is so we can find people to tell them when it is time to go home and to give them updates about the fire. If everyone scatters to the wind, we can’t find them. It is my policy to move people back as soon as we can. You can be assured your house is safe, you can help around your house and you will appreciate the efforts of your fire fighters all the more seeing it first hand.

Lessons Learned

After meetings and discussion after discussion a couple of things are going on. First, a meeting was held July 16 to talk about ways to fill the information void we have in Truckee. Maia Schneider has some great ideas and we will make improvements. Secondly, we in the fire service use radios to operate on fires. These frequencies are not top secret and can be heard on any dime store scanner you can buy. I will list the common frequencies we use so you may put them in your scanner and you may listen to us work.

CDF Local- daily dispatch channel for CDF and Truckee Fire. 154.130

CDF Command- used for command discussions on large incidents by CDF and Truckee Fire so the dispatch frequency is not tied up. 151.355

Tahoe National Forest – used to dispatch USFS resources on fires on the forest168.775

Tactical- used for tactical applications between equipment on a fire 154.295

Although there are multiple radio frequencies used on major incidents, these are the common day to day frequencies we use. Listen, enjoy, and be prepared. At times it may be shocking, but it is the nature of the business.

Any questions about radios, frequencies and what you might hear? Call me at 582-7850. Please be safe.


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