Heading into this year’s fire season under historically dry conditions, the Sebastopol Fire Department launched a new website to help residents weather what may be another devastating year.
The Sebastopol Ready website (sebastopolready.org) is a way for Sebastopol-area residents to learn about disaster-preparedness individually, or to connect to a broader network of community members through the Map Your Neighborhood program.
The website emphasizes the need for preparedness on both the individual and community level, because, as has been demonstrated during recent natural disasters, emergency services aren’t always widely accessible during large-scale events.
According to the website, “During a large local emergency, the Sebastopol Fire Department and other area first responders will deploy personnel and equipment to the areas where they are needed most. With resources likely stretched thin, many areas will be on their own for hours, days, or longer.”
Sebastopol’s Public Safety Coordinator Skip Jirrels said the goal of the website is to show Sebastopolians how to prepare for the likely event of an emergency and motivate them to do so.
“There’s a lot of people doing a lot of things to take responsibility for ourselves. We sort of go with the idea that nobody’s coming,” Jirrels said.
One of the key resources of the website is a 9-step plan to prepare for wildland fires. The steps include: wearing protective clothing such as a hard hat, leather gloves and a headlamp, and forming neighborhood teams and developing plans to work together during an emergency.
Map Your Neighborhood encourages collaboration within and between neighborhoods in emergency preparation. Members organize within their individual neighborhoods to ensure as many bases as possible are covered in anticipation of an emergency situation.
MYN members meet collectively within neighborhoods to assess what skills and resources are available, in addition to noting where vulnerable residents may live, and then make contingency plans to be acted on in the event of an emergency.
By preparing individuals and pooling resources and skills collectively, MYN groups can assist neighbors in responding to a variety of emergency situations.
For example, a MYN group collaboratively solving a problem occurred when one group lacked members with medical expertise. Soon thereafter, one of the MYN participants in that neighborhood signed up and completed a Red Cross first aid course in order to fill the neighborhood’s need.
The neighborhood network was able to help the Gravenstein Health Action Coalition identify vulnerable senior residents living in West County, so that they could respond with aid if needed.
MYN facilitates new groups through the Leadership Council, where the leaders of established neighborhood groups work with aspiring leaders in new neighborhoods.
As Public Safety Coordinator, Jirrels’ job is to facilitate the development of neighborhood groups and check in regularly, ensuring networks continue over time.
Jirrels began volunteering with the now-defunct Sebastopol Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) in 2006. CERT’s goal was to train community members to assist the city as first responders under emergency circumstances.
CERT ceased all its training programs in 2010, when the Map Your Neighborhood initiative began. Although firefighters had been wary of working with supposedly trained civilians, one of the reasons CERT ended, Fire Chief Bill Braga activated CERT only once, seven years after its operations ceased.
During the 2017 fires, Braga sent an email to an old CERT mailing list, and between 20-to-30 former CERT members arrived to assist the city in its response to the Tubbs Fire. While Sebastopol was not in the path of the fire, it took in evacuated Santa Rosa residents in search of safety.
Following CERT’s dissolution, the Sebastopol Fire Department began working with the community to establish the Map Your Neighborhood program.
Jirrels said MYN learned from CERT’s mistakes and is focusing on education and collaboration among area residents and with local emergency services rather than training individuals as first responders. In 2017, following the North Bay Wildfires, Jirrels was hired by the city as Public Safety Coordinator to work on the development of these groups.
Sebastopol Ready provides information on how interested community members can get involved and prepare for an emergency, but Jirrels said the best way to get started is to attend MYN classes, held the third Wednesday of each month at 6:30 p.m.
And with this year’s especially dry conditions, Jirrels said it’s more important than ever to prepare.
“We’re going into a period of time where preparing is very important, because the likelihood of something happening in your area is very high,” Jirrels said.
Jirrels also advised caution in regards to local journalists that deliver excellent copy, saying it's rare and should be scrutinized.