Fire Danger in California

By the time October rolls around in California, rain is just a memory with a hoped-for promise of precipitation on the horizon. Dry trees, shrubs and grasses, combined with high temperatures, create a California tinderbox. In short, fire danger is high in October. Perhaps that is one reason why communities across the country engage in fire prevention campaigns this month. The Benicia Fire Department is no exception. Benicia fire chief Jim Lyndon has devoted numerous efforts to help get the word out among local residents and businesses about preventing fires and saving lives and property.

Drought Continues

Outdoor activities
at the BFD open house

Though California received a healthy amount of rain last year, it has left hills and forests vulnerable to fire, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. While last season’s storms brought badly needed rain, the moisture left a bumper crop of grasses which are now dry, and pose a fire threat this fall, the agency noted. In Benicia, the fire department responded to 29 fires of all varieties in July, up from 8 fires in June, according the department’s monthly activity reports. Lydon said there have been recent small grass fires along Interstate 780, but no major fire activity. In April, a three-alarm fire tore through the Washington House on First Street, and unfortunately, a family dog died in a house fire in February.

Fire Prevention Open House

Police motorcycle at the Benicia Fire Dept. open house

Police motorcycle
at the BFD open house

Fire prevention is one part of the annual Benicia Fire Department Open House that takes place 11am-3pm, Saturday, Oct. 15 at Fire Station 11, at 150 Military West in downtown Benicia. This popular event, held on the edge of City Park, draws scores of children and families. Lydon said the event expands steadily each year, and is aimed mainly at increasing awareness and educating the community. Activities give the fire department a chance to teach people about the service, plus there’s the enjoyment factor, too. Kids can climb onto fire trucks, talk to firefighters, wear fire hats, get goodie bags, play in a jump house and get their faces painted. During the afternoon people can chat with 911 dispatchers, take a tour of the fire station, see a fire engine “Show & Tell,” and also tour a Coast Guard boat. The California Highway Patrol, Benicia Emergency Response Team (BERT) and the Benicia Amateur Radio Club (BARC) will be on hand, and a REACH Air Medical helicopter will do a flyover. The day will also include hands-on extinguisher and rope rescue demonstrations. Benicia PD k-9 unit will also be on hand.

National Fire Prevention Week

Kids activities at the Benicia Fire Dept open house

Kids activities
at the BFD open house

The Open House comes on the heels of National Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 9-15. The event commemorates the Great Chicago Fire that occurred in 1871, and provides an opportunity to also focus on fire safety and fire prevention, Lydon said. The week’s theme of “Don’t Wait – Check the Date! Replace Smoke Alarms Every 10 Years” is part of a multi-year effort of the National Fire Protection Association to educate people on the use and importance of smoke detectors. Lydon said smoke detectors have been “proven to save many lives by the early notification to the residents of a fire.” Over the years, he said, technology has improved. Fire detectors can now be outfitted with a 10-year life sealed battery, thereby increasing their reliability. Combination detectors are also now available to detect both smoke and carbon monoxide. “We encourage everyone to ensure that they have a working smoke detector in each sleeping room and the common areas outside the sleeping areas,” said Lydon.  Besides assuring their smoke detectors are working, families should also practice what they will do if they are alerted to a fire.

New Community Mass Notification System

Emergency helicopter at Benicia Fire Dept. open house

Courtesy Benicia Fire Dept.

Emergency helicopter
at the BFD open house

Finally, the fire department is rolling out a new “community mass notification system,” known as Alert Benicia, which will allow for more effective and timely notifications to the community regarding emergency incidents and the proper actions to take, said Lydon. “We are very excited about the enhanced capabilities that this system will provide,” he added. The system allows for people to receive notifications via text and e-mail, as well as to landline telephones.  Lydon said messages can be general in nature, or tailored and targeted for a particular neighborhood. Benicians can register their cell phones and e-mails, and sign up their homes and businesses. Fliers have gone up around town, and is in place. The aim of Alert Benicia is to assure people get the information they need in the event of a fire, earthquake, gas leak, shelter-in-place order, or other community incidents.