Utah Fire Corps Support
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The Fire Corps of Utah is taking steps to solve an all too common problem – a large number of fire departments would like to have a Fire Corps program, but many do not have the resources to manage one alone. As a result, the state of Utah is taking the lead by creating a state-wide Fire Corp program that is managed by the Utah Office of the State Fire Marshal. Each region will have representatives to direct volunteers in their area to a department with needs that match the volunteers’ interests and abilities. Through this program, the Fire Corps of Utah will rise to the challenge of serving 2.5 million people spread over 84,000 square miles.
This unique method of organization will allow departments across the state to benefit from volunteer support. Fire Corps members can work to increase participation in their community’s local Fire Corps program, or they can focus on state-wide initiatives, such as being a regional coordinator for the Juvenile Firesetter Intervention Program or creating fire safety education materials for use in schools.
One of the main activities of the Fire Corps members is to increase wildland urban interface (WUI) safety through education. Utah has many isolated communities throughout the state that are completely surrounded by wildland. Wildfires occur every summer and often threaten both rural and urban communities. Reaching the citizens about this particular danger is crucial, and the threat is even greater this year as the current number of wildfires already exceeds 46,000 – well over the national average of 43,273.
To help with WUI education, Fire Corps of Utah has partnered with other stakeholder organizations such as Community Fire Councils comprised of landowners living in identified WUI areas who have come together to create fire plans and take action. These councils identify the hazard their community faces in regard to wildfires, prioritize the hazards, and establish an action plan. The councils are encouraged to form a Fire Corps group under Fire Corps of Utah. If and when their local fire department is ready to support the council, Fire Corps of Utah relinquishes organizational control and the councils report directly to the local departments instead.
In addition, volunteers for the magazine Utah Living with Fire are working with Fire Corps of Utah to update the educational materials the state distributes to those concerned about wildfire. A Citizen Corps grant was used to hire a photographer to get Utah-specific photos both for this publication and to provide stock images for future needs. If additional funding can be secured, they plan to produce an educational video for Community Fire Councils and other Fire Corps educators to use.
Recently, Fire Corps of Utah, along with Utah Living with Fire and Forestry, Fire, and State Lands, hosted a WUI workshop for homeowners in Cedar City and will also host a second workshop in Salt Lake City in August. Over the next year, they hope to host four to six smaller workshops in communities across the state to further educate the public on how to prevent damage from wildfires.
Another project for Fire Corps of Utah is a WUI homeowner training program for urban neighborhoods. Currently, Utah has an award-winning training program for rural WUI communities to help them understand their hazards, take personal responsibility for their safety and protection of their property, and teach them appropriate actions. Fire Corps members are working with the creators of this program and with the local structural fire agency to produce an urban-based version of the training. The project is scheduled to be piloted this fall and spring.
Fire Corps Program Volunteer Spotlight
Natalie Tholen has worked in Fire Corps volunteer programming for over nine years. What began as a few hours a week has grown into a part-time job managing many other volunteers. She serves as the Public Education Specialist at Layton Fire Department in Layton, Utah and has acted as the volunteer coordinator for nearly ten years. What began as an opportunity for a stay-at-home-mom to spend a few hours out of the home developed into a part-time job coordinating over 4000 volunteer hours per year.
In 2006 Tholen’s father, a veteran Police Officer for Salt Lake City passed away. Tholen had always been impressed with her dad’s integrity and work ethic. “I wanted to be the kind of daughter my parents would be proud of,” says Tholen.
Tholen’s dedication to volunteer began just two months before her father’s passing. She was taking classes with a local CERT group (Community Emergency Response Team) when she asked if she could help take part in some of the teaching. Within months, she was part of the team – regularly volunteering her time to the needs of the community. “I felt like it was an important way to be a part of things,” she adds.
“I took my family with me. It was important to do that. We were there so much that volunteering defined who we were as a family,” says Tholen.
It wasn’t long before Tholen’s efforts were noticed. A job supervisor offered her a position to coordinate programming for the area.
“I initially turned it down,” Tholen stated. “They came back a month later and offered it again and I accepted.”
From there, Natalie found great success at her new calling. She grew the programs offered in Davis County to include CERT training and Fire Corps.
Fire Corps is a volunteer fire program that assists fire departments and communities prepare for and manage fire emergencies. Many communities throughout Utah support Fire Corps initiatives and it is a popular program for volunteers nation-wide. Fire Corps seeks to:
- learn about promising practices being used in existing non-operational volunteer programs;
- share this information with departments that want to expand or improve their programs;
- increase the use of non-emergency volunteers in existing programs;
- help citizens learn about and get involved in Fire Corps programs in their communities;
- help agencies without a program to get one started. (www.firecorps.org/aboutus)
Much of what Tholen’s Fire Corps group’s success is because of her initiative. The group takes part in emergency preparedness fairs, mock disaster simulations, youth firesetting prevention, fund raising, grant writing, and many other activities. Tholen grew her Fire Corps program to include fire safety education programming for students from high school down to pre-school ages. The programs were written, created, and administered to the public by volunteers recruited by Tholen. High school students joined the program and performed safety education assemblies for their neighborhood elementary schools.
“I wrote the skit that is used by the Junior Fire Corps kids and direct the 6th graders to perform their skit to Head Start and pre-school aged children on ‘What’s Hot and What’ Not in the Home.’”
Tholen estimates that in 2016 over 11,000 students were taught in the Layton City area, a city with a population of 75,000.
Between the many different events and programs, Tholen estimates that her volunteers give over 4000 hours a year in community service. There are even more important statistics connected to the success of her program: “Since our programs began we have seen a 20% reduction in home fires in Layton and a 75% reduction of juvenile firesetting.” Because of her efforts, The Layton City Fire Corps is now featured by the National Fire Academy as one of the top 3 fire education programs in the nation.
What began as an opportunity for a stay-at-home mom to get out of house became a commitment to the safety education of her community.
Moving forward, Tholen would like to see Fire Corps continue to grow in the Layton community. She would also like to emphasize that it’s a great opportunity for anyone looking for a place to help. “Just because you don’t have a fire background doesn’t mean you can’t fit in with Fire Corps.”
When asked where she draws her inspiration from, Tholen notes that “I have found some of my greatest joys in losing myself in the service of others. I found myself. I have gotten a lot from volunteering and hopefully I can help other people get the same rewards from it.”
To find out more about volunteer opportunities with Fire Corps, visit: