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Quincy Fire to look at fire preparedness

Retired CalFire veteran Steve Fowler is familiar with the Quincy area. He’s also familiar with wildfires and structure fires. Fowler is back in the area assisting Quincy Fire Department with its inspections. Photo by Robbie Cassou

Efforts to mitigate the potential for deadly catastrophic fires and address insurance issues are proceeding on the local, state and national levels.

The Quincy Volunteer Fire Department is stepping up to offer critical advice toward making public and commercial buildings more fire resistant. The efforts also make facilities safer for employees and others. “We want to make sure everyone gets out alive,” said Quincy Fire Chief Robbie Cassou.

Steve Fowler, a retired CalFire representative in the Quincy area, is adding his wealth of knowledge in assisting QFD in meeting with business people and others.

Cassou said he couldn’t believe the department’s good fortune in getting someone with Fowler’s background in wildfire and his outgoing, friendly personality to want to work with local people in better preparing structures against single incidents or major fires.

And Fowler can be believed in his recommendations. His Concow home survived last year’s Camp Fire, which is attributed to his careful preparation for not just building his home to resist fire, but in maintaining the surrounding area.

Actually, Fowler’s home survived not just one major wildfire, but two — one in 2008, and the 2018 Camp Fire.

“In the aftermath of the Camp Fire — 86 dead, more than 13,900 homes destroyed and Paradise (and other neighboring communities) decimated — local and state officials said the tragedy was unforeseen and unavoidable, an ‘unprecedented’ monster of a fire,” according to a Dec. 30, 2018 “Must Read: Here’s how Paradise ignored warnings and became a death trap” news story in the LA Times.

“In truth, the destruction was utterly predictable, and the community’s struggles to deal with the fire were the result of lessons forgotten and warnings ignored. The miracle of the tragedy, local officials now concede, is how many people escaped,” according to reporters Paige St. John, Joseph Serna, and Rong-Gong Lin II.

The mission

“I’m here because my wife passed away three months ago,” Fowler explained. “I came up to Quincy and Robbie asked me if I would like a part-time job.”

“It’s something I love,” Fowler said. “It’s something I know.”

A longtime firefighter and now chief, Cassou said he not only studied what went right and wrong on the Camp Fire and similar catastrophes, he wanted to step up plans to make businesses, motels, apartment buildings, schools and public buildings more fire-safe. These precautions could help in the event of a wildfire threatening the Quincy area, or in a single structure fire.

Cassou’s efforts were also backed by state preparedness plans following the Dec. 2, 2016, Ghost Ship Fire that killed 36 in Oakland.

Although the former warehouse master tenant Derick Almena and his assistant Max Harris were initially charged with violations in converting the building into an artists’ collective and allowing an indoor music event to occur, the Alameda County District Attorney also became involved.

Those findings determined that besides using the facility for purposes other than as a warehouse, major electrical problems existed — no fire sprinklers, no smoke alarms, and use of a building without permits.

It was determined that the building was filled with highly combustible materials that promoted heavy and deadly smoke. In fact, hallways were so packed that it was difficult for those inside to find access to the outside.

And one of the biggest problems not only for firefighters battling the blaze, but those inside the warehouse, was that people were living inside a structure never designed nor permitted as a residence.

With that disaster in mind, the state now requires local reporting from fire districts. Cassou and Fowler will be submitting their reports to the state to help show what is being done to assist with public safety.

“Specifically I want to inspect motels, hotels, lodging houses and the schools, of course including private and public,” Fowler said about his list of high-interest areas.

Cassou said that inspections are very time consuming to do. “We’re supposed to be doing this every year,” he said. But there are a lot of businesses and public facilities in the Quincy area.

Fowler said he will be using the International Code Council (ICC) guidelines as required by the state in doing his inspections.

“The International Code Council is a member-focused association dedicated to helping the building-safety community and construction industry provide safe and sustainable construction through the development of codes and standards used in the design, build and compliance process. Most U.S. communities and many global markets choose the International Codes,” according to the ICC web site.

The process

Fowler said he started the process by introducing himself to Plumas County Building Director Chuck White, Planning Director Tracey Ferguson and Assessor Chuck Leonhardt.

The last time the county adopted codes in this area was 2010, Fowler said. They will be in the process of updating them in 2020.

The codes include all basic requirements, including making sure there are working fire extinguishers present, making sure that hallways are clear and that escape routes are noted. “This is something that’s helping people,” Cassou emphasized.

Checklists

Fowler will make his inspections armed with checklists designed for each type of facility or business.

For instance the apartment building safety checklist looks into whether there’s a visible exterior address, a lockbox containing facility keys for doors and entry gates, that combustible materials aren’t stored under stairways and other safety factors.

The checklist for private and public schools K-12 includes the visible address sign, a marked fire lane, an additional fire access road and that fire sprinkler systems are in place and working, among other areas.

For more information on inspections and requirements, contact Steve Fowler at the Quincy Volunteer Fire Department at 283-0870.

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