By Jeremy Elrod
Wildfire Prevention Specialist Mark Wiles visited with the Colbert City Council in August and gave a brief presentation on the National Firewise Program and suggestions on how to be a fire-safe community.
“I know you just spent 30 minutes talking about all the rain we’ve had lately, but now I want to sell you on the need for fire protection and the Firewise program,” said Wiles. “It originated and is very common in Western states like California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, but the Forestry Commission and the US Forestry Service have made an attempt to make Firewise communities here in Georgia as well.”
Wiles said the program is dedicated to making homes and communities safe.
“There are grants associated with this that could help repair roads that are too narrow for emergency vehicles, implement fire hydrants where they’re needed in the city and train and equip firefighters,” said Wiles.
Mayor Chris Peck mentioned the county’s former forestry department.
“Why would the state close down our forestry department here in the county and then want us to enroll in something like the Firewise program?” he asked.
Wiles revealed the reason for the state’s support.
“Let me first say that I was fire chief here in Madison County for 12 years, and I think closing the forestry department was a bad idea,” said Wiles. “The state closed the forestry department in an attempt to save money, but has been pushing the Firewise program because it’s a national, federally funded program.”
Councilman Bert Robinson inquired about the requirements of being involved.
“What does it take to be a part of the program?” he asked.
Wiles listed off the recognition criteria.
“Initially an assessment would be done of every house and area within the city, to create a report of what needs to be done and plan to identify solutions,” he said. “Once that’s completed a Firewise task force would be established to maintain the program, the city would observe a Firewise Day each year, municipal employees or volunteers would participate and invest time in training, and, finally, an annual report would need to be submitted to maintain compliance with the Firewise program.”
Robinson asked if membership would have any effect on insurance rates.
“Does participation in this program provide any insurance breaks?” asked Robinson.
Wiles said there are no current breaks.
“At the moment it doesn’t provide any insurance breaks, but that doesn’t mean it won’t eventually,” he said. “It does provide firemen with better training on forest fires, makes the community safer and is completely free — so it’s really a win-win overall.”
Wiles provided final comments on the topic.
“In the past the forestry department spent a lot of money on Smokey the Bear and campaigns like that, but this is something that we believe gets at the heart of the problem,” he said. “We may not have huge fires like they do out west, but if we can prevent one family from losing their house then we’ve done our job.”
Mayor Peck offered final thoughts on the matter.
“I like the program and what you’ve presented here tonight, but don’t believe any of us are in the position to make a decision at the moment,” he said. “Once we look over all the information and figure out what we can do, we’ll put it to a vote and move forward from there.”
In other matters, the mill rate for the 2014 year was voted on and set at 3.5 mills. Discussion of turning certain roads into one-way streets was tabled until further research could be done. The city is working to fix several drainage issues around town due to the unusual amount of rain. Colbert’s Old Fashioned Christmas will take place Dec. 6 of this year, with volunteer meetings to be set in the coming months. Mayor Peck reminded the council of the importance of the SPLOST vote and the funds the city receives from that tax.
“SPLOST is the only fair tax there is, so tell everyone you know to get behind it,” he said.