California Fire Safe Council (CFSC) began in 1993 as the information/education arm of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF). While this was initially an effective role for the organization, it soon became evident that communities, especially those in the wildland urban interface, needed more than information to help make their neighborhoods and the people livingthere safe from wildfire. This demand was fueled by agrowingnumber of catastrophic wildfires. In 2001, the National Fire Plan came into being, providingfederal dollars for wildfire prevention efforts. However, there was no centralizedgroup to help administer and manage these funds; applicants had to complete multiple applications requestingfundingfrom the federal agencies makingwildfire prevention funds available. It became evident that there was a need for a “one-stop shopping” process.
At about this time, CFSC separated itself from CDF and began the process of incorporatingas a California non-profit corporation, which was completed in 2003. After receivingagrant from the Bureau of Land Management to helpget the organization up and running, CFSC made its first National Fire Plangrants in 2004. Thesegrants utilized an innovative, online Clearinghouse, where applicants completed one form that could be reviewed by all federal agencies providingfire prevention funds through the Clearinghouse. Proposed projects then went through a competitive review by an objective panel of fire and related field professionals to establish their suitability for funding.
This was the “One Stop Shop” that had been envisioned for so long. This process continues to this day, although it has been refined forgreater effectiveness. Since 2004, CFSC has passed through over $100 million in federal fire prevention dollars to groups of all sizes and complexities throughout the state.
In connection with these Clearinghousegrants, CFSC employs Grant Managers who are required to become certified in federal grants management. They help applicants learn how to apply forgrants, manage thegrants once awarded to ensure compliance with federalgrant requirements (including environmental compliance) and provide technical assistance in varyingways to ensure that the projects are successful. Grant Managers make site visits to view records, see the project in action, andget to know thegrantees.
Like many of the organizations receiving Clearinghouse grants, California Fire Safe Council has experienced a great deal of change, primarily as the result of increased funding due to legislative awareness of the state’s vulnerability to wildfire. Since 2007, CFSC more than doubled its staff and tripled its budget. Additional staff expanded the organization’s capacity to provide expedited information on environmental compliance for grant-funded projects, reach out to emerging local Fire Safe Councils and other local groups and provide more focused attention to grant recipients as the result of more realistic workloads for Grant Managers. These new team members brought skills and backgrounds that complemented and enhanced CFSC’s ability to provide a broad spectrum of services and resources. The Northern California staff was consolidated into one centralized office in Sacramento, which minimizes operational expenditures while maximizing staff’s ability to share information and balance staffing during vacations, holidays, etc.
In addition to operating the Clearinghouse, CFSC acts as the connector between a growing network of local Fire Safe Councils (over 200 at this time), between federal agencies and other fire agencies and the FSCs, and as a conduit to federal, private and corporate funders. CFSC acts as an advocate with federal and state legislators on issues of mutual concern. The organization provides help with accessingmedia, trainingon a variety of issues, and disseminates information on resources of all kinds. CFSC develops programs and services to support and expand the efforts of local FSCs, including assisting with the creation of county- or region-wide Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs).
Many CFSC staff and board members are actively involved with their own community’s local FSC. Other board members work for corporations or fire agencies and serve as invaluable resources for local FSCs on a variety of issues. Although CFSC board and staff support the establishment of new FSCs, there is no template for what each new FSC is or does; that is defined by the community itself. As CFSC is not a membership organization, there is no formal oversight or management responsibility for local FSCs. A local FSC might be an ad hoc group working within the community with volunteer labor, a more structured nonprofit corporation with paid staff, a committee of a homeowners’ association, or countless other variations. Each group defines its goals and plans activities and projects to help keep their community fire safe.
As CFSC embarks on its eighteenth year, a primary focus is to identify ways to keep the local Fire Safe Councils motivated and sustainable. It is vital to stay up-to-date on the latest news and research related to fire safety, grants management and organizational development. CFSC will continue to offer valuable resources and workshops for residents, Fire Safe Council members, and agency representatives in order to foster collaborative efforts toward making communities fire safe. CFSC reaffirms its ongoing commitment to mobilizing Californians to help keep their homes, communities and environment safe from wildfire.