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Author: Kaitlin Lutz/ Wednesday, January 23, 2019
Ready, Set, Go! (RSG) Program Champion Nick Harrison is retiring in February after 27.5 years with the Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS). Harrison is a Forester by profession and has served as a Regional Urban Forester, Regional Fire Coordinator, WUI Specialist and WUI Staff Forester with TFS. Currently, he is the agency’s first Firewise Coordinator & RSG Liaison.
Harrison coordinates the agency’s involvement in the RSG! Program ensuring that TFS stays on top of the Achievement Management System (AMS) leaderboard. He instituted a reporting structure among the WUI staff to make sure that he is capturing all of the Mitigation & Prevention Department’s educational outreach and mitigation work. He also strives to collect information from other departments within TFS.
Having spent his career working in wildfire preparedness and prevention, Harrison has a wealth of knowledge to share with those getting started with the RSG! Program. We sat down with Nick to talk about his career, his use of the RSG! Program, and any advice he has for new RSG members.
RSG: How did you get started with the RSG! Program?
Harrison: Texas was in a historic and unfortunately catastrophic wildfire season in 2011, when the International Association of Fire Chiefs launched the RSG! Program. During a three-week period in April 2011, Texas had over 200 wildfires, many of them large fires across the state. In Texas, 80 to 90% of the wildfires occur within two miles of a community and about 90% of the fires are human caused. The RSG! Program provided much needed information that TFS could provide to fire departments, who in turn could educate their residents about wildfire preparedness.
At that time, TFS also had prevention staff and teams working across Texas to help reduce human caused fires and the RSG! Program helped our outreach efforts. We were able to provide RSG National Action Guides to our Incident Response resources, so they could give out information when they were assisting with a wildfire in a community.
In the beginning, TFS used the IAFC National Action Guide template and added TFS logos. As our involvement with the RSG! Program progressed, we customized the National Action Guide for Texas by adding state specific information and photos. We also added a section for ranchers and rural landowners and created RSG rack cards that could be left at convenience stores, hardware & feed stores, etc., as a quick reference.
Also, during the 2011 wildfire season, the TFS hosted two members from the RSG pilot programs to assist in trainings and help promote the use of the RSG! Program. John Cowie of the Barnegat (New Jersey) Volunteer Fire Company and the New Jersey Forest Fire Service and Chief Rich Cowger of Columbus (Montana) Fire Rescue spent two weeks traveling around Texas, working side by side with TFS WUI Staff and meeting with fire departments, emergency management organizations and other emergency responders to educate them on how the RSG! Program could benefit their department or organization.
Thanks to the RSG! Program I developed a strong friendship with Chief Cowger and especially John Cowie. We helped each other with the program, discussed WUI issues in our respective states and learned from each other. John Cowie and I also had a friendly competition over who could provide more information and work hours on AMS.
RSG: How has the RSG! Program benefited your organization?
Harrison: RSG is an integral part of what the TFS does. It is a really good program that resonates well with residents and homeowners. It has provided the agency with an easily delivered educational outreach tool. We incorporate RSG tenets into our presentations and meetings with key community stakeholders. We use the Action Guide and other RSG materials on a regular basis with TFS WUI displays at meetings, conferences and events.
AMS is another asset of the program. It has provided me with an easy way to track and show all of TFS’s outreach and fuels reduction work. I can quickly export a record of our work that I use in reports to my supervisors. It takes very little time to do, but it has helped to give my agency national recognition for the work we do. TFS has consistently been among the top five reporters on the AMS leaderboard.
RSG: What is your greatest accomplishment or proudest moment using the RSG! Program?
Harrison: There are several accomplishments that come to mind that make me proud to use the RSG! Program.
The first is a direct beneficial impact for a resident using the RSG Action Guide. We had a rural resident in Collin County, TX, that had received an RSG Action Guide at a local event. He took the guide home, read it and completed many of the “Ready” actions around his home to prepare for wildfires. Shortly after that, there was a wildfire adjacent to his property. He and his wife were on the way back to their house when they noticed a smoke column near their home. When they were finally allowed to access their property, they found ash and (cold) embers around their house and on their porch. The embers had landed where they had once had a log pile on their porch and in the landscape beds. Due to the “Ready” actions he took, the log pile had been moved away from the house. He had also trimmed and cleaned out the grass, leaves and dead vegetation from the beds. The actions he took after he read the Action Guide helped to save his home. This home was featured in the RSG resident video that is available on the RSG website.
Next, I have been recognized on the state and national level for my work with the RSG! Program. I received the Texas A&M Forest Service’s D.A. “Andy” Anderson Award for Information and Education and the Robert J. Browning, Jr. Award, from the Southern Region of the USFS, for my prevention efforts using the RSG! Program. I was also a recipient of one of the inaugural RSG Awards.
RSG: How does your organization utilize the RSG! Program and NFPA’s Firewise USA® in a complimentary method?
Harrison: The RSG! Program and Firewise USA® are used jointly in TFS programs. Many times, by getting citizens interested in RSG, it directly gets them interested in helping their community. Then they get interested in becoming a Firewise USA® site. When the programs go hand in hand, it is easy to peak interest in communities that have a wildfire problem. The programs don’t compete because Firewise USA® has a set list of criteria that you must do and RSG is an outreach method for fire departments to use to educate residents on emergency preparedness. A way to look at it is that Firewise USA® is part of the “Ready” tenet of RSG. Using the two programs together has become especially important over the recent years with the way wildfire season has been across the country.
RSG: What advice do you have for people getting started with the RSG! Program?
Harrison: First take the time to learn about the program and how it can benefit your agency. Check out the RSG website and sign up to be a member. It is a free program, so there is no cost involved. Then take every opportunity to incorporate RSG outreach in your existing programs. It is an easy program to implement and melds well with other existing educational outreach programs. Be sure that everyone in your department understands the program on a professional and personal level. This will help everyone to be able to easily talk about the program and it will enable your department personnel to practice what they preach.
While its primary focus is on wildfire preparedness, it promotes preparedness in general that can be applied to all kinds of disasters including hurricanes and floods. It helps residents realize the need for a 72-hour emergency kit, learn about evacuation routes, look around their properties for risks and hazards, and to have situational awareness which is necessary in all kinds of emergency situations.
Make sure you use AMS to record your hours and accomplishments. That information can be provided to supervisors, city councils and other community stakeholders to show everything that your department has done to make your community safer. It also creates friendly competition among other RSG members and can bring you national recognition on the AMS leaderboard.
The RSG! Program would like to wish Nick Harrison the very best in his retirement. Congratulations on a job well done and a retirement well deserved.
For more information about the RSG! Program visit our website, www.wildlandfirersg.org or contact RSG Staff at RSG@iafc.org.
IAFC's Wildland Fire Programs are funded in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service.
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