Emergency Personnel Review Fire Work

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Are you ready if the Rim country has a fire season like the one in 2002? What will happen if area residents are evacuated or called upon to host evacuees?

Those questions were at the root of a meeting Feb. 19 to prepare for evacuations due to wildfires in the coming months.

Payson Fire Chief John Ross said the Forest Service is predicting another dry summer.

Emergency services personnel gathered to discuss what worked and where there were problems with the efforts this past summer.

Improved, accurate, current communications with evacuees about what is happening on the front lines of the fire; and about the needs of the evacuees and firefighters to the public were suggested. This included providing a single line for people to call to find out what is needed and where it needs to go.

Having a designated spot for media updates was suggested as well.

The Civil Air Patrol offered to provide fly-over live feeds as part of improved communication efforts.

Another suggestion was to have shelter workers in special vests or carrying name tags for easier identification.

It also was suggested that an effort to educate the public be made regarding what to bring with them, and their animals, if they are evacuated.

Ross said this is something that is already being planned.

Herb Weissenfels, superintendent of the Payson schools, said while a planning meeting just preceding the Rodeo-Chediski Fire gave the school an opportunity to be in a good state of readiness, there were some problems with getting needed technical equipment in place and running. He suggested having more advance notice if television, video players and public address systems are needed. It takes anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes to get that equipment in place and operational. He said he could see the wait adding stress to the evacuees.

He also noted the turf war between the Red Cross people and the local residents who had set up and were operating the shelter.

"Where's the alternative evacuation center when school is in session?" Weissenfels asked.

With the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, school had recessed for summer, so the Rim Country Middle School gym and other buildings were easily accessible.

Alternative sites, such as the Tonto Apache Community's gym or area churches were suggested, or it could just mean "school's out" when there is an emergency calling for an evacuation shelter.

Ross said for future emergencies, "a Civilian Emergency Response Team is organizing with a $10,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Ron Peterson and Lew Levenson are coordinating it. Volunteers are needed for psychological care, handling traffic and staffing shelters."

Persons interested in participating can e-mail Ross at jross@ci.payson.az.us

Ross said another evacuation planning meeting will be held after a March 29 drill to again assess what worked and where there are problems.

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