FIRE ON NORTH CAPTIVA February’s massive house fire was Upper Captiva’s most significant event since Hurricane Charley in 2004. A roaring blaze fanned by high winds made the potential for island-wide property damage very real. The concerted efforts of our fire personnel aided by firefighters from neighboring departments, plus help from the UCFRD volunteers and other islanders, contained damage to three homes. It could have been 30 or 300. We’ve experienced our first major fire in many, many years. It underscored two truths about living on this island paradise: first, because of wood-frame houses surrounded by flammable trees, all in cyclically dry conditions, we have an elevated fire risk. Second, homeowners are the first defense against a fire and we should be doing much more to protect our property. That’s what this newsletter is about.
CONSIDER THE PALM FROND A TORCH by Bill & Jackie Byrnes Any of you who were on Upper Captiva on February 17, 2013, witnessed first hand the importance of keeping palm trees and other foliage properly trimmed and maintained. The spread of spot fires would have been greater, along with the likelihood of more extensive damage, except for one very important factor: The owner of one of the burning houses had just completed a landscaping project— all his palm trees were trimmed and cleaned up and the sea grapes cut back. It’s your lane, too The Upper Captiva Fire Department would like all island lanes to have a minimum clearance of 12 feet width and 12 feet height. This is what is needed to permit unimpeded passage of the largest fire trucks. We have a chronic problem with keeping our lush, island vegetation from encroaching onto the roads and reducing the necessary clearance. It is the responsibility of each property owner to trim the vegetation along their property's easement to insure unimpeded access by emergency vehicles. The structure fires on Kingfisher Drive ignited over a dozen spot fires and small brush fires as well as one roof fire, all of which were extinguished without significant property damage. These blazes were all caused by the strong wind blowing embers south across the Island. You’ve probably heard the advice that an area of at least thirty feet be kept completely clear on all sides of your house. We also note that it is extremely unlikely that anyone will do that — unless they’ve seen the palm trees fueling a fire. Untrimmed palms are as flammable as match heads. A single frond when exposed to flame will envelop the entire tree in seconds and quickly spread to surrounding trees and homes. The bonus for keeping the trees trimmed and cleaned is that it eliminates a nesting place for our island's pests, the black rats. The closer they live to your home, the greater likelihood they will find a way into your trash bin or even the house. And there’s good reason to pick up and dispose of the trimmings — they can be set ablaze by a tossed cigarette. There are a number of tree trimmers and landscapers on Upper Captiva who can provide these services and we strongly recommend that you utilize their services. The project not only makes your home look nicer but improves access by firefighters.
SPRINKLER SYSTEM by Fran DeTure A sprinkler system in your home is the first line of defense for dousing fires and protecting occupants. The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates a fire can grow from a small flame to fully engulfing a room in three minutes. Sprinklers are activated individually by heat, not smoke, and they automatically spray directly on the fire while the UCFRD is responding to a call. The firefighters will likely shut off your electricity when they arrive; this will stop your well pump from working and kill the water supply to your sprinklers. Because of this you should consider having an exterior cut-in connection installed in your main sprinkler pipe. The Fire Department can then couple the fire truck pumper hose to your system and continue to flow water through your sprinklers. The photo shows a fire hose coupling on a 28” high stanchion (paint job otional) in an ideal location: adjacent to the lane for easy access and well away from the house. If it’s under the home, flames may prevent firemen from reaching the cut-in.
HOME PREP READY? by Fran DeTure Being prepared for a small fire can save your home from extensive damage or loss and keep your fire or a neighbor's fire from spreading. This is a list of simple things that can make a difference. • Hang a fire extinguisher on every level of your home and one next to your grill, especially if it’s on a deck. Check your fire extinguishers periodically to make sure they are charged. Store them somewhat distant from where a fire is likely to start and if you have to use an extinguisher make sure you have a safe escape route. If you rent your home, post a list or map of where the fire extinguishers are located. Our island firefighters are available to advise you about what type of fire extinguisher to have and will show you how to use one. • Show your address on the lane. In the centerfold of your UCCA phone book is a map of island lots and homes. A very large copy of the map is mounted on the fire station wall next to the dispatch radio and phones. It shows real street addresses, the location information firefighters need to respond to a call. It does not have club numbers or romance names like Ocean Acres. A 911 emergency alert to the station will show only the street address. Every home must have the legal house number displayed in a type style and location that is easily read and seen, even at night. That is Lee County law. • Have one hundred feet of hose hooked up and ready to use at ground level. Even if you have a metal roof, connect another hose to a bib close to your roof so you can wet it down if embers from a nearby fire start falling on your home. • Install smoke alarms. Check to see that the alarms are working and periodically change the batteries. • Plan your escape. Make sure everyone knows how to get out from different areas of the house, especially their bedrooms. Identify alternate escape routes if stairs or exits become blocked by fire. For upper stories, install some sort of fire escape — chain ladders, stairs, slides, etc. Consider any physical limitations in deciding how you will get out. • Display the “In Case Of Fire” instructions that accompany this newsletter in a conspicuous location in your home, preferably near the phone. Additional copies of these instructions, as well as other brochures about fire safety are available at the firehouse.
FIRE TRAFFIC CONTROL Fran DeTure A fire site is chaotic and dangerous. Unimpeded access for firefighters and equipment is critical — it’s important that you stay away from the area and not block access. There will likely be volunteer firemen or persons designated by the Fire Chief whose task is to direct traffic and keep the general public away from the fire. Some roads will be closed to all traffic. As the incident evolves, these people may be replaced by Lee County Sheriff deputies. Anyone the Fire Chief delegates to control traffic is fully empowered to do just that, and the public is legally required to heed their instructions. Failure to do so can lead to arrest and prosecution for a third-degree felony. If you want to help, do not go to the fire site. Rather, if the road to the fire station is open or if the volunteers directing traffic give you permission, go to the station. Someone in an official capacity will be there coordinating what needs to be done and will likely be able to give you a job to do. Remember, wind-blown embers can start new fires several lanes away. One of the best ways you can help is to stay close to home, watch and report spot fires from embers.
WHO’S THAT COORDINATOR? Savvy person + good crib-sheet We were thinking hard about how a willing Islander could effectively help the firefighters, next time they’re engulfed in a major emergency. Better communications came up. It always does. Now, more people are working at it. Since The Fire, the department’s base and mobile radios have been upgraded, big-time. (Thanks, Friends of UCFRD!) And, the County’s emergency CODE RED system, is getting tweaked to notify all of us about threats specific to our island (see the chief’s letter with this issue). Both are good steps. But still, if we rush in to help, frustrating traffic control or pushing for direction from too-busy firefighters, that’s between not-productive and dangerous. Next idea was to have a wise, calm person who stands by the station’s dispatch radio and phone — Big Red Box, to some — efficiently answering calls from firefighters or volunteers or neighbors or pesky TV reporters. This Coordinator can locate the fire (or any crisis) on the Big Map (opposite the Big Box), knows who needs help, where to send runners (anyone who’s handy), where supplies and equipment are stored — things like that. Who’s left at the station? When stuff hits the fan, like, say Feb. 17, the professional staff and most-current volunteers know to suit-up, grab equipment and get out to the scene. They already have jobs to do. Who’s left at the station? Maybe a wise old-pro, but, to increase the odds that a cued-in person will take responsibility for the base radio or phone and update helpful Islanders, we’ve studied the bays, made up reference sheets and, so far, three people are prepared to be the source of accurate information in an emergency (and hoping it never happens). Like the Fire Volunteers who train twice a month on pumps, hoses, shovels and such to support the firefighters, Coordinators, with less time to invest, can learn how to help from the station. – MA
WHAT IS ISO? Fran DeTure & Chief Richard Pepper The Insurance Service Office (ISO) is the measure the insurance industry uses to gauge a community's firefighting ability. A given fire department is inspected periodically and its ISO rating adjusted based upon its performance, using a scale of one to 10. One equals very good and 10 means uninsurable, or what ISO considers unprotected. Many factors comprise this ISO inspection. These include: 1) Manpower — primarily the number of trained firefighters available to respond 2) Equipment — trucks, ladders, pumps, etc. 3) Water supply 4) Communication capability 5) Department's response time in a test situation 6) Types and heights of buildings in which a fire might need to be fought 7) Topography between buildings and the vegetative load that might impact a fire's spread Upper Captiva's current rating is a seven. We are due for re-inspection in the next 12 months. It seems that, with our stable manpower and equipment situation since the last inspection and with the increased numbers of large, three-level homes, we may not remain a seven. ISO, at the request of major insurance companies, has changed its inspection criteria. National Fire Protection Association ( NFPA ) standards are now cited throughout the rating schedule. Re-inspection will be at four-year intervals. The ISO number helps determine our insurance rates. If our number goes up, so will our insurance premiums. In a worst-case scenario, insurance would be not just very expensive or cost prohibitive, but not available at all. The unavailability of fire insurance would, in turn, affect the ability to get a mortgage on an island home, and difficulty in getting a mortgage could adversely impact property values. In summary, our ISO rating is critical to insurance affordability and underscores our need to fund the things our fire department needs to effectively fight fire on the island.