[California] Fire Safe Council
[by Bruce Turbeville, Chairman]
The purpose of this white paper is to summarize the genesis of the Fire Safe Council and
present immediate challenges facing the organization.
Why the FSC was Formed
CDF started the Fire Safe Council (FSC) in 1993 to augment efforts of its statewide Fire
Prevention Education program. Charged with communicating fire prevention educational
messages to 33 million Californians, the education program’s responsibility far exceeded
its annual budget of $250,000, which equated to less than one penny per person. With
many of the fastest growing communities located in areas served by CDF, the department
could no longer rely on its resources alone to meet its educational mission. It had to
create a new way of spreading fire safety messages.
CDF, joined by MS&L and McElroy Communications under CDF’s Public Education
contract, created the concept of an organization whose members understood California’s
fire problem and participated in fostering fire safety across the state. The three founding
members recruited representatives of leading industries, organizations and government
agencies to be members of what was then called the Fire Safe California Advisory
Defining the Mission
Prior to the Fire Safe Council, no organization had been successful at consistently
drawing the participation of disparate groups. The goal of the founders was to bring
these diverse interests together and get their participation in delivering a uniform message
to their constituents about a topic of mutual concern: fire safety.
Early FSC meetings involved explaining to those recruited the potential impact of
wildfire on their organization and constituents. The reluctance of early members to sit at
the table with their opposition was overcome when they learned the Council’s purpose
was to foster information sharing and problem-solving, that its goal was to form
partnerships to communicate fire safety messages, not strictly to fundraise, and that it
would provide information from both sides of an issue that would allow members to take
positions on that issue should they choose.
The FSC’s Mission is to preserve California's natural and manmade resources by
mobilizing all Californians to make their homes, neighborhoods and communities fire
safe. Utilizing the combined expertise, resources and distribution channels of its
members the Council has united its diverse membership to speak with one voice about
fire safety. Since its inception, the Council has distributed fire prevention education
materials to industry leaders and their constituents, evaluated legislation pertaining to fire
safety and empowered grassroots organizations to spearhead fire safety programs.
The Council’s approach to membership is informal and inclusive. According to the FSC
web site, the public and private organizations listed here are members of the Fire Safe
Council. In addition, local Councils participate at the FSC meetings.
Allstate Insurance Chubb Insurance
American Red Cross Committee for Firesafe Dwellings
American Society of Landscape Architects Council for a Green Environment
Association of Contract Counties Farmer's Insurance Group of Companies
Association of Contract Counties Federal Emergency Management Agency
Audubon Society Fire Districts Association of California
Bureau of Land Management Firewise: What you can do to protect your home
California Air Resources Board Fireman's Fund Insurance
California Association of Nurserymen Governor's Office of Emergency Services
California Association of Realtors® Insurance Information Network of California
California Association of Resource Conservation Insurance Services Office, Inc.
Districts League of California Cities Fire Chiefs
California Board of Forestry The Nature Conservancy
California Building Industry Association National Audubon Society
California Cattlemen's Association National Fire Protection Association
California Department of Conservation Orange County Fire Authority
California State Association of Counties Pacific Gas & Electric
California Department of Fish and Game Personal Insurance Federation
California Department of Forestry and Fire Planning and Conservation League
Protection/California State Fire Marshal's Office Roundup
California Department of Insurance Safeco Insurance
California State Firefighters Association San Diego Gas & Electric
California Department of Parks and Recreation Society of American Foresters
California Fair Plan Association South Coast Air Quality Management District
California Farm Bureau Federation Southern California Edison
California Fire Chiefs Association State Farm Insurance Companies
California Forest Products Commission Twentieth Century Insurance
California Integrated Waste Management Board USAA Property and Casualty Insurance
California Landscape Contractors Association U.S.D.A. Forest Service
California Sod Producers
California State Automobile Association
California State Firefighters Association
California Urban Forests Council
Partnerships Increase Activity
Its role as information broker led the Council to become more active between meetings
when members volunteered to partner on fire safety educational projects. These gave
members a way of acting on the information they’d received at meetings. Projects were
made possible primarily through the in-kind services of member organizations. To
reflect its more active nature and that it was being exported to other states and countries
as a model program, the FSC dropped “California Advisory” from its title in the mid-90s
to become the Fire Safe Council.
As the FSC appeared at League of California Cities, California State Association of
Counties, American Society of Landscape Architects and numerous other conferences,
local counterparts of the statewide members began forming Councils in their regions.
According to its website, the following are highlights of Council accomplishments:
In 2001, the Fire Safe Council, local Councils and other groups received $3.7 million
in National Fire Plan grants to fund fire safety programs in California; more than 100
programs were made possible by the National Fire Plan.
The Fire Safe Council was awarded the Bronze Smokey for national recognition for
outstanding statewide fire prevention program.
The Fire Safe Council has been endorsed by the Western Governors Association and
implemented in other western states, such as Oregon.
The Fire Safe Council has been honored by the Public Relations Society of America
for its role in the "El Fuego" campaign. "El Fuego" won the top award, Best of Show,
surpassing more than 100 other corporate, governmental and organizational public
outreach programs in 1998.
The Fire Safe Council became a signatory member of the Alliance for a Fire Safe
California, formed to overcome institutional barriers to creating a Fire Safe
California. Additional signatory members include the California Department of
Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF), USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land
Management, National Park Service, BIA, OES, Fish and Wildlife Service and Los
Angeles County Fire Department (representing all local fire agencies).
The Allstate Foundation granted the Fire Safe Council $2,500 to provide local
communities with guidance on how to plan and implement pre-fire management
projects to reduce the risk of wildfire.
The California FAIR Plan provided a $25,000 contribution to buy advertising time for
a fire safe public service announcement to be distributed to California media.
American Insurance Association helped secure actor Tom Selleck to film a series of
TV and radio public service announcements and secured a $100,000 contribution
from California FAIR Plan to buy advertising time for the Selleck TV spots.
California Farm Bureau Federation has run extensive fire prevention stories in several
internal publications and through its statewide radio network.
All Council members distributed Community Fire Safe Kits to their constituents.
Members have provided speakers, exhibits and expertise to various conferences,
including League of California Cities, California State Association of Counties,
American Society of Landscape Architects, California Landscape Contractors
Association, California Association of Nurserymen, National Fire Protection
Association, Insurance Institute for Property Loss Reduction, and more.
USAA sent a letter to all policyholders in California cautioning them to the wildfire
danger in the state and providing a sheet of fire safe tips.
California Association of Nurserymen distributed "Fire Safe Inside and Out" videos
and brochures to all nurseries in Laguna, Malibu and Altadena.
PG&E has conducted many fire prevention programs, including a print advertisement
campaign and hazard tree removal programs.
California Association of Realtors amended the property disclosure section of a real
estate form used in 80-90 percent of all transactions statewide to require sellers to
disclose wildfire severity information about property in state responsibility areas
under certain conditions
Insurance Institute for Property Loss Reduction funded a full-page insert in USA
TODAY using artwork and information from CDF's "Fire Safe Inside and Out"
materials; the Institute also produced a fire prevention brochure that was printed and
made available to all insurance companies nationwide.
Various members lent their support of "The Burning Season" documentary by The
Members lent expertise to a "how to" video for homeowners entitled, "Fire Safe
Various members produced the Fire Safe California Community Action Kit, a "how
to" book, video and other materials. The kit provides guidance to public and private
sector local leaders on making their communities fire safe. The council has
distributed copies of kits free to various organizations, including over 200
homeowner associations across the state.
FireSafe Marin has conducted annual programs, including education and brush
Mission Viejo Fire Safe Council has conducted a neighborhood defensible space
clean-up is spearheading a water source identification system, broadcast "Fire Safe
Inside & Out" on local cable television, among other activities.
San Diego's Fire Safe Council has participated in creating five fire safe demonstration
gardens throughout the County.
The Nevada Fire Safe Council is working with an insurance company to create a fire
safe homeowner inspection program with certification for homeowners to submit to
their insurance company.
Among other activities, many local Fire Safe Councils have created community
newsletters, individual web sites, participated in local fairs and cooperated on pre-fire
A Resource for Local Councils
The formation of local Councils got a big boost from CDF’s 1995 Fire Plan. Originally a
document that allocated equipment and manpower among CDF’s units, the Fire Plan was
redesigned in 1995 to focus on minimizing the potential for loss due to wildfire. It
enabled CDF to log a community’s assets and risks as a means of prioritizing the
increased demand for pre-fire services. A key element of the Fire Plan process called for
community stakeholder input. CDF adopted the Fire Safe Council model for that input
process and local Councils formed rapidly.
The local Councils looked to the state body for help. The FSC sent state representatives
to local meetings to start many local Councils. Once formed, the local Councils did not
want the FSC telling them how to conduct their business, but did want the FSC to provide
them with tools they couldn’t create on their own to facilitate the success of their
Still funded by CDF’s limited budget, the FSC created a website in 1997 to cost-
effectively communicate with the growing number of local FSCs and foster information
sharing among them. The website has become the FSC’s primary tool of information and
educational materials distribution to local FSCs. The FSC also created the Fire Safe
Council handbook to meet a growing demand for help in forming local FSCs.
As the FSC’s scope of influence and work grew, so did its demand on CDF’s Fire
Prevention Education Program budget. CDF’s award-winning flagship education
program, Fire Safe Inside & Out, was aging and the department needed to update all of its
materials to include its new educational messages, new uniforms and new addresses.
Facing budget cuts, CDF communicated that while it supported the Council, the Fire Safe
Council needed to find new ways to fund its growing activities; it could not rely solely on
CDF to meet all its needs.
At the same time, local Councils were having a difficult time meeting goals without
funding. And local FSC members who began to attend statewide meetings called for less
influence by CDF in the FSC. The answer for both sides came in the form of National
Fire Plan Community Assistance Grants.
News of potential funding for community-based projects drew significantly more local
Council attendance and participation at state FSC meetings. The meeting format that
focused on state members discussing fire safety across California gradually changed.
That portion of the meeting began focusing on local Council updates, funding updates
and local Councils requesting the state counterparts get involved to solve problems of
The growing focus on issues affecting local Councils coincided with a drop in attendance
and participation by state members, particularly industry representatives such as building,
real estate, utility and insurance among others, as well as representatives of agencies not
directly involved with land ownership and management or fire (Caltrans, Department of
Water Resources, Air Resources Board). No research has been done to determine if one
caused the other. It is clear that keeping the diverse membership actively involved is an
ongoing challenge for the FSC that has been addressed in the past by focused recruitment
and re-recruitment efforts. With its limited resources aimed at meeting the demand
placed on it by local FSCs, the FSC had to curtail activities aimed at maintaining its
broad state membership base. One potential effect of this is that with diminishing
participation by industry members, the FSC may find itself less able to influence
legislation, and public and corporate policy through the efforts of its members.
The Community Assistance Grants gave the Council an opportunity to establish its own
funding base. While the FSC was initially considered to be the fiscal agent for the
Community Assistance Grants program, its lack of administrative structure, especially no
nonprofit status, ruled this out. It was at this time that the membership signaled its desire
to obtain nonprofit status.
The Sacramento Regional Foundation currently hosts the grant program and is under
agreement with the Bureau of Land Management until 2006 or until it has hosted $10
million in grants, whichever comes first. The Community Assistance Grants can be
moved at any time to another host organization. Had the FSC been able to host the
grants, it would have earned approximately $360,000.
The FSC’s Community Assistance grants will fund its operation through April 2003. A
second round of grant funding could potentially keep the FSC running through December
2003. Ultimately National Fire Plan funding, currently the FSC’s sole source of support,
will cease. Even if it continues in the short-term, emphasis in the grant program on on-
the-ground projects will potentially limit the FSC’s ability to rely on National Fire Plan
The FSC faces three immediate challenges as it examines its future:
The FSC will cease to operate unless it can establish its own multiyear operational
budget or rely solely on volunteer efforts; current National Fire Plan funding is a
stop-gap measure, CDF is no longer an option:
National Fire Plan funding is not guaranteed. In addition, its year-to-year funding
cycle does not allow the Council to plan for long-term needs of members.
Based on departmental budgetary constraints and the current Council budget,
CDF will be unable to reassume the role of funding the Council’s operations at
their current levels.
With funding expiring in April or December 2003, the Council will have to act
quickly to establish its administrative and operational budget. If the council
incorporates as a nonprofit, the ability to successfully develop and maintain
adequate, diverse private and government funding sources will depend on the
ability of the board of directors to facilitate an effective fundraising campaign.
Board members who believe in the Council and can influence organizations to
support the FSC have the greatest opportunity to be successful.
Because it has no current formal administrative structure and no nonprofit status, the
FSC is not an attractive funding option for foundations and other sources such as
government agencies that require accountability.
The FSC’s hallmark has been its broad-based membership. It must strike a balance
between being a resource to local Councils and ensuring the state-level membership
remains diverse and participatory at all levels, from general membership to
committees to a governing board.