Posted by Cindie Baker on September 17, 2014
Cindie Baker is an Emergency Medical Responder and Type 2 Wildland Firefighter
I live in a small community near Boulder, Colorado. I moved here 11 years ago for the nature, the outdoor lifestyle, and the quiet after living in New York City for 12 years, and specifically being there for the terrible events of 9/11.
I love the beauty and enjoying the outdoors, but it’s not always so calm. I joined the Boulder Mountain Fire Protection District 9 years ago—as a means to get out of the house (as a full-time teleworker, this is a must!) and from a desire to give back to my community. At first I was part of the citizens’ corps, leading other volunteers and helping with traffic control and evacuations, so that the first responders could focus on their work. Several years ago, I became a first responder myself by completing the department’s 50+ hour Rookie Academy and attaining national certifications as a Type 2 Wildland Firefighter and an Emergency Medical Responder.
Boulder Mountain Fire is staffed by around 50 volunteer firefighters and medics, plus our department chief. Volunteers are on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and there are approximately 1,000 homes in our mountain district. So far this year, I’ve responded to 37 calls, mostly medical calls.
Two events of a larger nature come to mind—they demonstrate both the importance of volunteer first responders and of personal preparedness. In September 2010, our area experienced the Fourmile Canyon Fire. Wildfires are an event we anticipate and train for—we’ve done neighborhood evacuation drills—and that training kicked into place during this event. We evacuated the residents from our district and assisted with attacking the fire, which was fully contained in 11 days. The fire eventually burned 6,181 acres (about 10 square miles) and destroyed 161 homes—the most in Colorado history at the time—but thankfully none in our district. But for us first responders, the biggest measure of success was that no firefighters or citizens were injured.
The second event was a year ago this month—what is it about September?—when our area was hit by epic flooding. While we were prepared for localized floods, we were not ready to deal with flooding on such a massive scale. We experienced a 1,000-year rainfall and a 100-year flood that impacted several counties in Northern Colorado. With fire, it’s flee, evacuate. With floods it’s not so simple. Evacuation routes were impassable, requiring people to shelter in place. Power and gas were cut off by landslides, leaving many people without electricity or a means for cooking (although some used grills or camp stoves to prepare food). Citizens were cut off from access to needed medications.
Our district’s volunteers worked 12-hour shifts during this event. I was thankful for Booz Allen’s support in understanding and allowing me to respond to the needs of my community during this crisis. Volunteer first responders set up relay lines to deliver medication into cut-off neighborhoods. One of our volunteer firefighters saved two teenagers, another responded to a woman who had gone into labor, yet other team responded to a home collapsing due to the flooding and resulting landslide.
I cannot overstress the importance of personal preparedness in surviving events such as these. My mantra and that of my volunteer department: Be prepared for a variety of events and the unexpected. Others include:
- Create an escape plan. Know all of your area’s evacuation routes, but also think through alternate ways out in case roads are impassable or, in the case of flash flooding, you need to quickly get to higher ground. For example, we advise occupants of homes along streams to establish ropes that will lead them out of their houses and up the side of the mountain to safety.
- Have a check list and prioritize it based on how much time you’re given to evacuate. For immediate evacuation, it’s people and pets get out, and leave everything else behind. But if you have a few minutes to prepare, decide ahead of time what you will take and what you won’t—and have a check list to go through so you don’t forget anything.
- Practice your plan. You need everyone in your household to know the plan and follow it. It could truly be a matter of life or death someday.
I encourage everyone to find a way to engage in the preparedness of their communities. You don’t have to be a first responder to help out. Many departments have auxiliary units that perform vital functions such as fundraising. And many volunteer fire departments would value ad-hoc IT support, bookkeeping help, and the like. Our department even has a team that's trained in handling and evacuating pets. To learn more, contact your local fire department and ask about volunteer needs. If you’d like to learn more about personal preparedness, visit Ready.gov!