Wildfire Corner: Can firefighters and first responders find you? | Guest column

By Guy Gifford

Landowner Assistance Forester and Fire Prevention and Firewise Coordinator, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Northeast Region

In the heat of a fire, every second counts. So, if a time comes that you require emergency assistance, it’s important you’ve done your due diligence to make firefighters’ and emergency responders’ jobs easier. A simple, but critical, component of this is ensuring you have an easily visible and reflective address sign to help them find your home. Of course, the benefits of proper addressing go beyond wildfire season, too.

A reflective address sign will ideally have four-inch-high numbers on both sides of the sign and can be seen easily from the road. You may need more than one reflective address sign if you share a common driveway with other homeowners: one at the main road, and one at the driveway of each individual house. Some fire districts sell reflective signs and will even install them for you. Check with your local fire district to see if they have an address program.

People often mistakenly think firefighters can navigate to a house by following the smoke. In reality, roads do not always take you to where you think they should. When responding to a wildfire, firefighters are often forced to guess which roads will take them where they need to go only to find they are going the wrong direction or have hit a dead-end, wasting precious time.

Addressing doesn’t just help firefighters get to fires quickly — it also helps first responders find you during a medical emergency. If this happens at night, having a reflective address sign is critical. The picture below demonstrates that importance.

Recently, a Firewise USA site community leader shared with me an experience where someone in their community needed emergency medical assistance.

It was nighttime and there was two inches of fresh snow on the ground. The first responders were going up the private lane and arrived at the first fork in the road, but the snow made it difficult to tell if one of these directions was the driveway and there was no visible address. Of course, this delayed their response to the individual in need.

During the summer, it would have been easy to determine which way was a continuation of the road and which way was the driveway, but not in these circumstances, especially considering the address marker was a rock covered in snow. It’s easy how to see how this could lead to tragedy in emergency situations where time is precious.

Since this incident, the community has added reflective address signs to their roads and then put arrows on their address signs to show which direction the house is in. They were able to add the arrows themselves by buying reflective vinyl material and using a Cricut machine owned by a member of the community.

Ensuring your home can be found during a fire or medical emergency will reduce the response time of the firefighters and first responders. Not doing so can have serious consequences.

As we step into what may be another bad wildfire season, don’t wait to “address” this issue and get your whole community involved in making things easier for those who help us in emergencies.