Prepping Your Property for Emergencies
Emergency Vehicle Access and Other Seldom Considered Issues
Fire preparedness is an often overlooked issue on the farm and homestead. Have you looked at your homestead or farm through the eyes of a firefighter? Many people haven’t, but I do it every day. It’s great that people have found their little slice of the countryside or the secluded homestead of their dreams, but many of these properties are poorly set up to accept the help of a modern fire department.
There is always the unfortunate potential of fire or farm incident, and like most things in homesteading, preparedness is key. Be prepared to let your local fire department or ambulance service do the job they’ve been called to do. Here are a few ideas and considerations for making a first responder’s life a little easier when responding to your home.
You know where you live, but fire and EMS personnel don’t. When we get the call, we usually know generally where the address is, but if it’s not clearly marked, we’ll be wasting time looking for you. Many towns offer reflective number placards for your mailbox or house, which are great ways to mark your driveway. If you have a mailbox, put the biggest reflective numbers you can fit on both sides. You can even put your house number on your house, garage, or barn. We don’t care where you post your house number, as long as we can see it in the daylight and at night.
Fire trucks are not small vehicles by any means. Can they fit down your driveway, or will they have a tough time getting to you? Just because you can get a pickup truck to the end of your farm road doesn’t mean the local fire department can get its equipment to you.
Rural ambulances are typically very large because we carry critical patients long distances to the hospital. These trucks are the size of a mid-sized box truck because we need the room for equipment, EMTs, and if needed, a paramedic we may pick up along the way to the hospital. When your first aid kit contents aren’t enough for the job, be sure we can get the ambulance to you.
Trees and Rocks
Do you have low hanging branches or tree limbs that may strike something the size of a box truck as it comes down the driveway? Do you have rocks poking their way up in your driveway that may make it difficult to get a service vehicle where it might need to go? I would consider grading a driveway if it looks too treacherous to get heavy trucks down it and consider having a tree service open your tree canopy up a bit.
Access to Structures
A big part of on the farm fire preparedness is making sure firefighters can get to the fire. When you set up fences, build buildings, and park equipment, consider how it affects someone’s ability to walk around the building.
Can you add a gate to let equipment and people gain access? Before you build your next structure, consider if it would block a potential avenue a fire truck might use to get close to your other structures. Can you make a parking area that’s out of the way? Do your best to maintain a clear path around your barns so we can get to where we need to be quickly and easily.
Do you have a plan? Have you considered writing down your livestock fire evacuation procedures? If you haven’t even considered making a fire evacuation plan for your farm, now would be a good time to make one, and share it with everyone on the farm. Consider posting it in your barn to remind people what to do, where to go, and what gates to open or close. Where are you going to herd your livestock to when you evacuate them? These are all important things to consider before something happens.
Rural fire departments are used to drafting (sucking up water) from anywhere they can find it. In a small town, there is seldom a charged fire hydrant available, so we bring our own water to the party. Unfortunately, that water doesn’t last long, so we need to find a large water source quickly. Ponds, deep streams, and pools are our favorite places to draw water, but if we can’t see them, or don’t know about them, then we can’t use them.
Fire ponds are a great way to up your fire preparedness, but there are a few things you should know. If you do decide to dig a fire pond, be sure it’s relatively deep, since shallow ponds may not give us enough water, or we may have a hard time drafting from your pond.
Can we get a large fire truck next to your pond safely? Drafting water with more than 30 feet of hose between the truck and the pond can be problematic at best. We prefer to get within 10 to 15 feet of a water source if at all possible.
When we draw water from a pond, the ground is bound to get wet. Is there a gravel area we can park on, or are we going to have to call a heavy wrecker to tow us out of the mud again? It happens, so if you can, add a gravel area we can pump from.
Consider talking to your local fire department about adding a dry hydrant to your new or existing fire pond. A dry hydrant is a plastic pipe that gives us instant access to your water supply and saves us from bushwhacking our way to the edge of the water source. Instead of fighting with hoses, we can hook up quickly and draw a prime (evacuate the air between the pump and the water) much faster than if we need to toss a line into the water. Ask your local fire department about dry hydrants; they may have funds to buy and install the hardware for you, and you can tell your insurance company that you have a hydrant on your property. Insurance companies like fire preparedness measures like these, and it should save you some money on your policy.
Most fire departments offer a service called a fire pre-plan. It’s a fire preparedness plan developed by firefighters, for firefighters. A full pre-plan will give responding firefighters important details such as where to lay hose, where to park trucks, where special hazards like propane tanks are located, and where they can find water. Consider contacting your local fire department and ask about having a firefighter look at your farm and write up a pre-plan. These pre-plans are usually stored in a record on “first-in” trucks and vehicles designated as a command truck, and will be referenced by officers in the event of a fire on your property.
Snow, fallen trees, mud, and other treacherous conditions can easily impede, or at least slow firefighters down. We do our best, but when seconds count, the last thing we have time to deal with is snow and unnecessary obstacles. Keep your driveway, yard, and the area around your structures clear as much as possible. Carefully consider where you put your snowbanks and always fully clear any fallen trees that might keep us from getting to where you need us.
Do you have propane tanks? An outside oil tank? Do you buy fuel in bulk? All flammable and environmental hazards should be marked, or at a minimum, easily spotted and identified. We need to know in the event of a fire, where to find your gas shutoff valve and what special precautions we need to take. Help us spot these hazards by not hiding your tanks behind junk or fences. All this should be part of your fire preparedness plan.