A unique group of residents in Red Rock are helping save homes from wildfires. The program, which is a partnership between the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District (TMFPD) and the Washoe County Sheriff's Office (WCSO), is all volunteer based. 

When there is a high chance of thunderstorms causing wildfires TMFPD activates its lightning action plan. Part of that plan is staffing the volunteer fire stations throughout Washoe County. The Red Rock Volunteer Fire Department has an extra group of volunteers with the WCSO Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) who watch for lightning strikes.

On top of the normal training CERT members receive, the Red Rock team has special training to help spot and report lightning-caused fires. Team leader Sandy McGill has turned her dining room into a lightning-spotting station. She has a map of the area with a compass and points indicating distance, binoculars and radio. The team's secret weapon is a messaging app for smartphones and tablets, that help them stay connected with fire chiefs. There are three chat groups to keep conversations organized from official reports to community chatter.

Bill Garand, Red Rock Volunteer Fire Chief says the team saved crews nearly 30 minutes in response time the night of July 28th, when lightning sparked two fires on each side of the Red Rock valley and both threatened structures. Fortunately, no homes were lost.

"It was critical, it played a huge part in the response that night," says Chief Garand. He says the first report of the Rock Fire was a smoke sighting 'in the south of the valley' but that report was inaccurate. CERT lightning spotters reported the correct location in time for Garand and others to respond to the location.

"And activate the air attack," says Chief Garand, "Because without them, we would have lost a structure that night."

McGill spotted the second fire that night, the Seven Lakes fire. The geography of her community meant she could barely see the Rock Fire, and those that could see the Rock Fire, couldn't see the flames of the Seven Lakes growing.

"From my particular house," says McGill, "I have views of areas that aren't visible from the fire station, that aren't visible from the south end of the valley."

With eyes around the community and a standard operating procedure, the CERT volunteers are becoming vital. 
"This valley is really two halves, and we have people on both sides, and that allows us to respond quickly and more importantly accurately," says Chief Garand, "...this year, it really made a difference, so there's no way I would go backwards on this."
Chief Garand says setting up the program was as simple as contacting the neighborhood CERT leaders. WCSO says for more information contact Shirlee Rhodes at (775) 325-6928 or srhodes@washoecounty.us. To learn more about other CERT volunteer opportunities click here.