911: If they can’t find you, they can’t help you
Napa Firewise launches innovative ‘Reflect to Protect’ Address Sign Program with Bank of the West
On August 24, 2022, Napa Firewise, the Calistoga Fire Safe Council, Diamond Mountain Fire Safe Council, and Bank of the West teamed up to begin installation of almost 600 reflective address signs at homes throughout the Calistoga area to help firefighters and first responders more easily find property addresses in wildfires or other emergencies. Sponsored by Bank of the West, the signs were offered at no cost to residents who applied for them. This program represents a yearlong collaboration between these nonprofit fire prevention organizations and a community business partner.
A group of 32 Bank of The West employee-volunteers were given tool kits and training before installing signs at approximately 228 homes and properties on this single day; the second phase of sign placement will take place in September.
Napa Firewise Board Member and Calistoga Fire Safe Council Co-Lead Piper Cole said, “This is the beginning of a project that I’ve wanted to do for years: to make reflective address signs more readily and easily available to residents and to add informational stickers that tell first responders if there is water available and whether their firetrucks can turn around. We also wanted to help residents remember which Evacuation Zone they are in so that they know when it’s time to leave in the event of fire. This ambitious project would not have been possible without the generous support of the leadership and volunteers from Bank of the West. We hope to make this a model project that can be replicated, not only throughout Napa County, but in the rest of the state as well.”
Cole acknowledged the contributions of the many collaborators behind this project: JC Greenberg of CAL FIRE / Napa County Fire and a Napa Firewise Board member, and Christopher Thompson, Napa Firewise Board President & volunteer firefighter, for underscoring the importance of these signs for resident safety; Calistoga Fire Chief Steve Campbell and his firefighters who delivered door hangers to every Calistoga home; Joseph Grupalo of Zonehaven, the address-based evacuation zone system designed to improve emergency evacuation communication; UpValley Family Centers’ bilingual staff who helped residents with their applications; project coordinator Stephanie Tedy, VP, Head of Strategic Philanthropy at Bank of the West who provided the resources and stayed involved at every step of the planning; and Jerry Newell & Gretchen de Limur of the Diamond Mountain Fire Safe Council for organizational help and sign installation expertise. Newell is also a Napa Firewise Board member.
“We are proud to come together with Napa Firewise on this innovative project to help protect our communities from the dangers of wildfires,” said Melissa Fifield, Senior Vice President and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Bank of the West. “Something as simple as installing a 911 reflective address sign can make a big difference in a crisis situation.”
Addressing the volunteers prior to their training, Thompson shared the “light bulb moment” which was the impetus for this program. While serving as a volunteer firefighter in Deer Park, Napa County, Thompson’s unit got a 2:00 AM 911 call for someone suffering a possible heart attack. When the first responders arrived on scene, they were unable to find the victim’s home. They split up, urgently searching various unmarked homes in the dark along circuitous driveways. After several anxious minutes, Thompson finally found a house with an open door, where they were able to ultimately save the person in distress. “This is where the reality comes into play,” Thompson said. “Speaking as a firefighter, if we can’t find you, we can’t help you.”
Thompson mentioned the dangers firetrucks face entering long, narrow rural driveways often found around Napa County, saying “In the fire department, you are trained to not take unnecessary risks with the apparatus. You want to know if you go down this driveway, if there’s something burning down there, are you going to get trapped, can you get turned around?” Meeting with the Napa County Fire Chief, Thompson suggested putting stickers on 911 address signs showing a property has turnaround space, a water supply and other firefighting resources available, both for the firefighters’ safety and to help them defend the structure.
“This is a really good example of grassroots action,” Thompson said to the assembled group. Stating that the Napa County Fire Department has encouraged Napa Firewise to tackle these challenges when they can for the sake of expediency, he said, “What we have here are people who are invested in the community, who believed there must be better ways to get things done. And sure enough, here we all are, all gathered today to kick off an opportunity to make our community safer together. And it works!”
Other Bank of the West executives who were among the volunteer team were Ben Stuart, Chief Marketing Officer, Head of Growth and Transformation; Augustin de Kerversau, Executive Vice President, Head of Corporate and Commercial Banking; and Diana Deen, Executive Vice President, Head of Operational Risk & Chief Ethics and Conduct Officer – who happens to be married to Christopher Thompson and started the conversation between Napa Firewise and Bank of the West. Stuart said that in their first meeting with Napa Firewise, Thompson posited that “a dollar spent upfront on fire prevention is worth thirty-five dollars on the back end in damage and losses from fires.” Stuart continued, “I want everyone to realize that their time has real leverage today.”
Thompson thanked Bank of the West for “teaming up with us, and my wife for making the introduction. You guys are amazing in a number of ways. From all of us at Napa Firewise, you’ve been phenomenal to work with.” Finally, Thompson said, “This a sign of how we as an organization have invested in our communities through our Fire Safe Councils.” He acknowledged Piper Cole and Jerry Newell as leaders of Calistoga & Diamond Mountain Fire Safe Councils, respectively, who “have greatly exceeded all expectations in terms of their ability to get things done. It’s easy to formulate a fire safe council; it’s another thing completely to actually get in there, and make a difference, organize it to get people all moving in the right direction. I want to say thank you to Piper because she took this idea that JC and I came up with a long time ago, and she put legs on it and made it happen. The success of all of us here, ready to kick this off, is because of what Piper and her extraordinary team of volunteers have done.”
The Napa Communities Firewise Foundation (Napa Firewise) is a county-wide nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to reduce the risks & impacts of wildfires through fire fuel reduction and community education in Napa County. For more information on Wildfire Resilience Action Plan projects, neighborhood fire safe councils, or how to support this ongoing work, go to https://napafirewise.org.
Media Contact: Napa Firewise Communications:
Eden Umble, firstname.lastname@example.org, 707-280-3636