Emergency Fire Response and Evacuation Plan

Emergency Fire Response and Evacuation Plan

From the Davidson County Emergency Services      Revised 5/3/22

In the fall of 2009, the Davidson County Emergency Services (DCES) along with the Healing Springs Volunteer Fire Department (HSVFD) met with representatives of The Springs community to establish a protocol for the community to follow in the event of either a home/brush fire within the community or the encroachment of an external wildfire.  Their primary concern was the protection and safety of the residents while dealing with narrow winding roads over steep terrain, no fire hydrants and only two entrance/exits on the east end of the community for 100+ homes through 13 miles of roadway.  Prompt communication and understanding of the instructions given was going to be the key to their success.  The following sections attempt to explain their instructions and the reasoning behind them.

Section 1: The Importance of the Neighborhood Watch (NW) Program

Neighborhood Watch programs are the eyes and ears of the community.  If you see anything out of place, don’t be afraid to question it.  As it relates to this protocol; if you see unexplained smoke call 911!  It is an immediate emergency!  Minutes count!  Please don’t assume somebody else will make the call.  If it turns out to be a grease fire on a barbecue or wet wood in a fire pit, there is no harm done, but if it is anything else you could be saving lives and property.

The Healing Springs Fire Department’s primary concern is the safety of those in harm’s way.  The sooner the Fire Department knows everybody is safe, the sooner they can devote 100% of their efforts to fighting the fire.

Section 2: The Three Zone Concept

In this section we want to talk about the DCES request to divide our community into three zones.  If there is a house fire or brush fire in our community, the most likely scenario is that the firefighters will be able to contain it.  The problem, of course, is our road system.   The firefighters may only want a few people evacuated just in case an easily contained fire ignites a propane tank and escalates the danger of the fire spreading.  But at the same time, they want just a few people leaving; they also want safe access along our roads to get their firefighters and trucks in.  And, once they are at the scene, they will want to be able to move their pumper tankers back and forth to our two sources of refillable water.  Obviously, if everyone is trying to leave and the firefighters are trying to get their personnel and trucks to the scene of the fire, somebody could get hurt and a vehicular accident could prevent a small fire from being easily extinguished.

The DCES solution is to divide the community into three zones based on our road system.  The rational for this concept is that our roads make for natural fire barriers in helping the firefighters control the spread of a forest fire throughout the entire community.  By using “Post Calls” (covered in Section 4), our community notification system, the firefighters envision being able to instruct specific sections or zones of our community on what the residents should be doing.  If it is an easily contained fire, they may ask nobody to leave and just stay off the roads.  Or perhaps, those who live in the zone where the fire is occurring to be especially attentive for further messages. And, of course, they may ask everybody in that zone to leave depending how the fire is responding to their efforts.

It is very important that you know which zone you live in.  Since our roads determine the zones and are more or less permanent fixtures, once you know your zone number it will be good as long as we use this protocol.  A map of the three zones is at the end of Section 9.

Section 3: The Importance of Knowing Your Firewise Zone

As stated above, the DCES zones include all homes in an area defined by our road system (full, part time and vacant residences).   Presently, one zone may have many more homes in it than another.  The point is the firefighters plan to contain a house, brush or ground fire within the boundary of the zone created by our road system.   Any instructions they want us to follow will probably only pertain to those who are within the affected zone.   When a message is sent via the Post Calls telephone subscription service (Section 4), everybody will receive the message.  For most of us who are not in the affected zone, it will be a matter of staying alert and off of the roads so the firefighters can get to the scene of the fire.  Thus, it is very important that we know and remember which zone we are in so that we will know whether the instructions apply to us or not.

The zones are as follows:

Zone One: consists of all the residences on Healing Springs Drive, Pinnacle Trail and all residences on Sierra Trace Road EAST (i.e., towards highway 8) of the intersection of Pinnacle Trail and Sierra Trace Road.

Zone Two:  consists of all residences on Rocky Cove Lane to the intersection of Rocky Cove Lane and Palisades Trail, the residence on Palisades Trail and all residences on Sierra Trace Road between the intersection of Sierra Trace Road and Pinnacle Trail to the intersection of Sierra Trace Road and Palisades Trail.

Zone Three:  consists of all residences on Rocky Cove Lane WEST (i.e., towards the dam) of the intersection of Rocky Cove Lane and Palisades Trail to the end, Dale Brook Ct., Point View Ct., all residences on Sierra Trace Road WEST (i.e., towards the dam) of the intersection of Sierra Trace Road and Palisades Trail to the end and the residences on Tor Court, Mesa Court and Sirocco Drive.

Section 4: The Incident Command System and the Post Calls/Reverse 911 Telephone Alert Systems

Briefly, the Incident Command System is the organizational system by which all of the emergency departments available (fire, paramedics, sheriffs and police, etc.) are utilized if needed in any given emergency.  The fire chief of our district (Healing Springs) is always the commander-in-chief.   The decision of what will best protect all of us in the community and contain the emergency is made by him.  Many, many more details of this system can be found on the www.fema.org web site.  As part of the DCES protocol, the Emergency Services have asked the community to provide a person familiar with the Incident Command System to be a liaison to the commander and provide him with whatever information about the layout of The Springs and its residents that can be helpful.  Currently there are three qualified volunteers, but if there are any residents with experience in the ICS workings that are generally available (full time resident, work at home, retired, etc.), your help would be appreciated.

The first alert to an emergency, minor or serious, will probably come from Post Calls.  This is a subscriber service that allows the HOA to make a mass calling of a single message to all our residents.  Fortunately, this service allows calls to be made to cell and satellite-service phones as well as landline 859 numbers.  In design the call should be initiated by the resident liaison as guided by the Incident Commander, but if no one is available, the commander (fire chief) will do the alert directly.

The message will contain the nature of the emergency, its location and how each zone should be responding.  It is important that we listen closely and follow the directions carefully. Many times, it will be a matter of just staying put and keeping the roads clear for the firefighters.  For those phones that subscribe to caller ID, the screen will either identify itself as “Post Calls” or 405-308-4474 depending on your carrier.

It is very important that if you have any change of telephone numbers that you contact us at Firewise@thespringsathighrock.org to update us immediately!

Reverse 911 is a Davidson County EMS mass calling system that is for 859 landline telephones only.  It usually is for extremely severe emergencies with limited directions on what should be done.  Hopefully, if we ever get this call, we will already have had some information of the true nature of the emergency from our Post CAlls system.

Section 5: Preparing for an Evacuation in Advance

“When we fail to prepare, we are preparing to fail” B. Franklin

It is never pleasant to talk about insurance policies, last will and testaments and other documents that are needed when worse-case scenarios occur.  But if we don’t take some steps to prepare for a worse-case scenario, then we only help to compound the problems, not lessen them.  In the following sections we are going to assume the worst and make some suggestions in case the DCES ever calls for an evacuation of our homes.  How do we prepare ourselves?

  1. First make sure all property, health, and life insurance policies are up to date. Review existing policies for the amount and extent of coverage to ensure that what you have in place is what is required for you and your family for all possible hazards.
  2. Store important documents such as insurance policies, deeds, property records, wills and other important papers in a firebox or better yet, a safety deposit box away from your home.
  3. Make a record of your personal property, for insurance purposes. Take photos or a video of the interior and exterior of your home. Include personal belongings in your inventory. This inventory should also be kept off premises for a safe future reference if needed.
  4. Create a “Personal Information Packet” [PIP] that can be easily taken on your person in an evacuation. A 2-gallon Zip Lock bag is good for this purpose.  It is soft enough and flat enough to be tucked into your waistband leaving both hands free.  It should not be in a container that has to be carried by hand in case leaving by car becomes impossible and walking becomes the only option.   For those of you who are well into the computer age a dedicated memory stick with scanned copies of the following is an even better option.
  5. The PIP should contain:
    1. A list of all insurance policies, including the name of the insurer holding the contract, the contract number, the agent who sold the policy and his telephone number.
    2. Copies of up-to-date eyeglass and medical prescriptions
    3. Copies of social security cards
    4. Copies of driver’s licenses
    5. Copies of passports
    6. A list of your bank accounts
    7. A list of your credit cards and automatically deducted accounts [in case the cards are lost]
    8. Some money

Also, in the PIP you should have a three-day supply of any absolutely necessary prescription medications. A pill container designed for vacation travel would keep the medicines organized and take up less space.

The Personal Information Packet should be kept in the same safe, secure place you keep other important papers but it should be close, up to date and ready to be grabbed for leaving at a moment’s notice.

The above information was obtained from the FEMA website, www.fema.org  If you want to read more or go to their site, open the FEMA home page and, under the top header go to the link for the Plan and Prepare page and then to the “Are you Ready?” tab on the side of the page.

Section 6: The Mailbox Signal System

In this section we want to talk about a Mailbox Signal System.  Early on we mentioned that when the firefighters first arrive on the scene of a fire, they would first assess how well it could be contained and then extinguished.  However, before they start to control the fire, they will first evacuate all persons who they feel are in harm’s way.  For the most part, this will only involve one or two immediate neighbors adjacent to the fire with the rest of us being alerted for further developments.  But in Section 2 we talked about worse-case scenarios where whole zones or worse, the whole community, would be told to leave immediately.  As we are leaving, it will be the firefighters’ job to check each home in the affected area or zone to make sure everybody is safely gone.  Unfortunately, many of us live at the bottom of long, steep driveways with little turn around space for a quick in and out by the firefighters.  The DCES has come up with another way to help the firefighters.

The Firewise committee will take advantage of the fact that each home has to have a uniform size and shape mailbox at the entrance of its driveway as per the ARC covenants.  The committee will make a brightly colored (orange and yellow) rigid piece of plastic that will lie on the floor of your mailbox.  It will have a plastic loop on one end.  As you are leaving your home, you will take the plastic flag out of the mailbox and hang it on the upright red flag on each mailbox.  Firemen passing your home will trust that there is no one there and quickly move on.

It is a simple solution to help our firefighters but it can lead to a disaster if the following rules are not adhered to:

  1. Only the LAST person/vehicle leaving the home hangs the flag.  The flag means nobody is there, period.  It does not mean that they are coming or they will be leaving in a few minutes.
  2. If you are planning to hang a flag on a mailbox of a neighbor you know is on vacation, make absolutely sure, as well, that you know there is no caretaker or family member watching the home or in the residence.
  3. If there is any question about how close the fire is to you or your home, leave immediately!  Do not stop to hang the flag.   This step is only an aid, not a requirement.  Your life is what counts.

Section 7: An Alert Just Has Been Given; What Do I Do?

In this section we want to list the steps we all should be taking in case we have to leave if a mandatory evacuation order ever comes (and hopefully it never does).

As mentioned in Section 4, our first alert will probably be a telephone message from Post Calls.  It will be warning us that there is a problem either within or close to the community.  If the danger is fire related, an evacuation is a possibility and we should be using this “warning period” to make the evacuation more immediate and safer if it has to happen.  The following steps can be taken during this “warning period”:

  1. If there are young children in the family, try to get them home immediately.
  2. If there are pets in the family, they should be leashed or contained in a carrier, so that they can be transported quickly if necessary.
  3. Get your “Personal Information Packet” (PIP) and 3-day medicine supply out (this was discussed in Section 5).
  4. Get your cell phone out and turn it on.  Also, get both your car and home charger units out and ready to go.
  5. Have the vehicle(s) that you intend to leave with headed in the exit direction of your driveway.
  6. Put several bottles of water in those vehicles.
  7. Make sure there is a good working flashlight in those vehicles.
  8. Stay off of your home landline phones so that any up-to-date Post Calls messages can be received.
  9. Get everybody into a comfortable pair of walking shoes. Do not use leather sole shoes, slippers or moccasins.  They are too slippery to walk on grass with if it comes to that.
  1. Now, if we get a call telling us to evacuate and we used the “warning period” to prepare for it, it is a matter of gathering the family, pets, PIP, medicines and cell phones into our vehicles and leaving.

 However, if the call comes for an evacuation without any warning, we must leave immediately!  Only the following steps should apply:

  1. Gather the family; if there are missing members (especially children) call 911 immediately so that information can be relayed to the fire chief and additional help can be utilized in the search.
  2. Do not waste time looking for out-and-about pets or pets hiding in your home. If they won’t follow you to your car leave them behind.  If pets are outside, their instincts will probably save them.  If they are hiding in your home, you can leave the back door ajar.
  3. Take your “Personal Information Packet” and medicines if they have already been prepared. It is too late now to do what should have been done months ago.
  4. Take your cell phone and turn it on.
  5. The last car/person out of your home can hang the Mailbox Signal flag letting the firefighters know that they don’t have to worry about someone being left behind (this was covered in Section 6).

Section 8: Using Our Roads in an Evacuation

Once we are leaving in our cars or trucks, common sense must prevail at all costs.   Let’s go over some things we should be thinking about as we leave.

  1. Follow the directions that the fire department gave us. They will pick the safest exit route. It may very well not be the shortest route!  Also, remember, we have two exits available for us to leave by.  The fire department will make the best decision which one to use.
  2. Put on your headlights so that cars behind you can see your taillights. If visibility is very poor, turn on your warning signals.
  3. Drive at a safe speed, probably 20 to 25 MPH and do not tailgate. Tailgating only adds to the level of panic that already will be present.
  4. Be alert and prepared for sudden stops! Keep both hands on the steering wheel.  This is no time for one-handed texting or cell phoning. The idea is to get out of the community safely and not cause any accidents.
  5. Be alert for panicking deer. Everybody in the vehicle should be helping the driver watch the road in as many directions as possible

As we are leaving on our sometimes steep, winding and curvy roads, it is very important that we remain as calm as possible and be considerate of our neighbors.  The firefighters will not allow us to go onto our roads if there is a danger of being trapped in our cars by a wildfire.  The greatest danger is that we ourselves cause an accident thereby blocking the road to firefighters trying to get in and our neighbors trying to get out.

As we approach State Highway 8, the sheriff’s department will direct us either to turn left (north) or right (south) depending on which way the fire is coming.  If we go north, we will also be asked to rendezvous at either Pebble Beach or if this meeting place is too close to the fire, then we will be directed to the Southmont Volunteer Fire Department on Route 8 in Southmont.   If we are directed south on Route 8, we will rendezvous at Dave’s Mini-Mart across from the Healing Springs firehouse on Bringle Ferry Rd and Route 8.   Once at this checking-in place, we will be asked to check in with one of our neighbors who will be taking a roll call of who is safely out of the community.  Also, this roll call leader should have up-to-date information on Red Cross services and any news on when we can get back into our homes and community.

Section 9: The Roads Are Blocked

The last topic is going to be the most unpleasant of all to talk about, but it should be addressed and as we have said before, “If we fail to prepare, we are only preparing to fail.”

If there is a fire at the front gate area that blocks the two road exits available, we must be aware of other ways of getting off of the mountain.  This will be further complicated by the fact that if we can’t drive out of the community, the firefighters will not be able to drive into the community to help and guide us.  Hopefully, we still should be getting some instructions from either our Post Calls system or the Reverse-911 system.

The following are some strategies for a better chance of survival depending on where you live and how much time you think you have. In the end though, it is going to be your decision.

Remember, it is paramount that you try not to get into a position where you are in your car and get surrounded by wildfires.

Assuming the front gate and emergency fire tower roads are blocked by wildfires: the following are probably the best possible to least favorable suggestions; again, depending on how close the fire is to you and where you live.

  1. Those residents who live on Rocky Cove Lane probably would do best to get to a boat, the shoreline or community docks #2 and #3 on Flat Swamp Creek. Rocky Cove Lane residents should not be trying to drive to Dock #1 (aka, the boat launch dock), off of Healing Springs Drive, since you would be driving towards the wildfire instead of away from it.  Those residents who live on Healing Springs Drive should also do the same but use personal docks or Dock #1, the boat launch dock.  Residents who drive to one of the community docks or a private dock must remember to pull your vehicle as far off of the road as possible to allow fellow residents to park there as well without blocking the road.  Do not leave your vehicle on the pavement at any time!
  2. Boaters who are able to pick up residents on the shoreline or docks should do so, but remember not to exceed the capacity of your vessel. We will try to relay a safe unloading place by cell phone.  Most likely it will be Stoney Point or Pebble Beach. If there is a neighbor with a resident listing at the debarking area, let him know who you are so that the firefighters will know that your family is safe.
  3. Residents who live on the top of Healing Springs Mountain have to make the decision for themselves whether they can get down to the shoreline or not. Hopefully, there will be some information from the Post Calls system to guide them as to how fast the wildfire is moving and in what direction.  If they feel going down the mountain will trap them, then they should try to get to the HOA clubhouse instead.  The area around the clubhouse has been cleared and the grasses mowed in order to provide a better fire protection zone.  Also, the clubhouse has the swimming pool.  This body of water can also be used as a safe area.
  4. The area of last resort is our homes. We have talked about creating zones around our home so that your home would stand a better chance of surviving a wildfire.  Both the DCES and the NC Firewise Organization do not recommend staying in your home if at all possible.  But if there is no other choice then reading or re-reading and implementing the suggestions in the articles from the “Document Downloads” section of the org web page would be highly recommended.

This concludes our information from the Davidson County Emergency Services evacuation meetings.

Each resident should have a mailbox flag signal on his mailbox floor. If you do not have one or it is missing please contact: www.firewise@thespringsathighrock.org.