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Washington Township

Washington TownshipWashington Township lies in rural south central Ohio, near the confluence of the Scioto and Ohio Rivers. The village of West Portsmouth is the largest development in Washington Township. However, many residents make their homes in the hills outside of town. Topography in Washington Township is very steep and variable, with many alternating ridges and hollows, and the vast majority of the land is covered with oak-hickory forests. Several hundred acres of Ohio's largest state forest, Shawnee State Forest (63,747 acres), lie within Washington Township.

Washington TownshipThe Washington Township Fire Department (WTFD) is challenged with taking responsibility for fire and emergency in an area with numerous hazards to overcome. Aside from the topography issue as related to wildfire behavior, steep and/or inadequate roadways create access problems to homes. Dead-end roads up hollows are common. An ice storm in February 2003 caused tremendous damage to forests across southern Ohio, and left downed woody debris throughout the township in large quantities. Fuel accumulations have reached extremely hazardous levels. It was estimated that around 70% of homes in WTFD's jurisdiction had inadequate defensible space. An overall lack of awareness of wildfire safety in the area sends up another red flag. Compound these factors with the verity that Scioto County ranks annually among the highest in wildfire occurrence and acres burned in Ohio, and the wildfire risk elevates to very high levels.

Washington TownshipIn April 2005, WTFD began efforts towards increased wildfire safety in its protection area. The WTFD Chief and several department officers met with an Ohio Division of Forestry representative to discuss Firewise Ohio assistance options and grant funds. WTFD decided to undertake a massive awareness and education campaign. Fire department members made door-to-door visits to talk with homeowners about wildfire hazards and provide them with safety materials and brochures. Using Firewise Ohio Hazard Mitigation Grant funds, they purchased two leaf blowers and a chainsaw to use in fuels mitigation projects and for creating defensible space. Fire prevention signage was placed strategically in areas of higher occurrence, and a Smokey Bear fire danger sign was put up in a highly visible location to attract maximum attention. WTFD personnel escorted Smokey Bear to the local elementary schools to talk outdoor fire safety to kids, and discussed more advanced aspects of wildfire safety to older students. WTFD purchased an LCD projector and screen to use at open houses, public events, and meetings to assist in delivery of their Firewise safety message. Articles were placed in the local newspapers discussing Firewise and home safety, and an open house / cookout was held at the firehouse to give citizens an opportunity to ask questions and interact with WTFD members. In September 2005, the WTFD Chief attended the Mid Atlantic Forest Fire Compact Firewise Conference as a representative from Ohio. Following the conference, the fire department made the decision to apply for Firewise Communities/USA status.

In addition to their mitigation, education and outreach efforts, officers from the WTFD were key in developing a cooperative and comprehensive Community Wildfire Prevention Plan for the seven fire departments that they frequently mutual aid with. Additionally, WTFD took the lead on working with Scioto County EMA in developing and implementing a wildfire hazard-specific annex for the Scioto County Emergency Operations Plan. This annex has been used as a model by several other high fire danger counties in Ohio that are interested in enhancing planning and response capabilities.

Washington TownshipIn total, nearly $6,000 grant funds and in-kind services were dedicated to wildfire safety efforts in Washington Township. In March 2006, Washington Township was recognized as Ohio's first Firewise Communities/USA recipient. More importantly, the WTFD helped enhance wildfire safety for all members of the Washington Township community through awareness, education, mitigation, and prevention. WTFD plans to continue to build upon Firewise efforts in the future.