For print only.

What is Firewise? Residents can find out June 10

By Mike Wood

Staff writer

Friday, June 7 (9:00a.m.): A town hall on Monday, June 10, at the Event Center will give Director of Mutual Operations Jeroen Wright an opportunity to tell the community what Rossmoor’s Firewise program is about, its scope and its vision.

This town hall, running from 10 a.m. to noon, will include presenters from public agencies and organizations, with a Q&A session to wrap it up.

Along with Wright’s overview of Firewire, Public Safety Manager Tom Cashion will discuss takeaways learned from the May 2022 evacuation drill. A representative from the Walnut Creek Police Department will talk about alternative evacuation routes.

There will be presentations by the Rossmoor Emergency Preparedness Organization (EPO) and Contra Costa Fire Protection District.

While learning more about Firewise, attending this town hall in person or via Zoom also works toward a vital Firewise objective: the accumulation of volunteer hours tied to Rossmoor’s continuing recognition as a Firewise community by the National Fire Protection Association. To maintain that status, the community must accumulate 1,300 volunteer hours annually.

“Every single person that comes and participates or joins via Zoom will be counted as two hours toward those volunteer hours,” Wright said.

If 200 people take part either way, that’s 400 hours netted, he said, adding that another Firewise town hall is planned before the end of 2024, with plans to keep doing them twice a year.

To join this Firewise Town Hall on Zoom, residents can go to or call 1-669-444-9171 or 1-669-900-6833 (meeting ID: 854 9791 1798) for audio only.

“What we’re really trying to do is just get the education out there,” Wright said. “When people understand what’s going on, it alleviates a lot of fear.”

Alleviating fears has led Wright to present a program to address questions people may have:

“What’s going to happen if we have to evacuate?” How would Rossmoor function? How would (Emergency Medical Services) function?” Wright said. “Those are the things that we’re going to talk about at this town hall meeting.”

One area he’s aiming for is to positively impact Rossmoor’s master insurance policy, a source of much concern of late.

“What it’s doing is in the eyes of our underwriters; it’s making us a better risk,” he said. “And when we’re a better risk, our premiums could be lower and or our overall coverage could be greater.”

Fire safety is personal for Wright, who worked as a firefighter for the state of California, and for some time was based out of the Sunshine Forest Fire Station on Marsh Creek Road near Clayton.

“I have a passion for it,” Wright said. “I have a passion for this community and the people that are in it and keeping them safe.”

Wright began working on implementing Firewise shortly after his arrival in Rossmoor last  June.

Working closely with ConFire Fire Inspector Chris Giddis, a Firewise Committee of nine residents was formed, representing various Mutuals, including First, Second, Third and 68, among others. The committee went to work on an assessment of the entire community. Essentially, they built their case for Firewise recognition based on mitigation work already being done in Rossmoor, and presented that to the National Fire Protection Association, which led to Rossmoor becoming officially recognized in December.

“When I first started, I knew we already did everything,” Wright said. “We were already a Firewise community. We just didn’t tell anybody that we were.”

The committee has devised a three-year action plan to increase the resilience against wildfires. There’s a focus on the immediate zone, the area from zero to 5 feet from buildings. They’ve examined how dangerous flammable mulches can be in those areas, how flying embers could ignite them and then the mulch can light wooden fences, quickly endangering a building, Wright explained.

“If we can get people to buy into removing that flammable mulch, we will increase our resilience against wildfires; no question about that,” he said.

Residents can make an impact by seeing and reporting instances of something that could fuel a fire. When residents see anything like that, Wright urges them to call the Work Order Desk at 1-925-988-7650.

Wright described an email from a resident reporting a slope behind Tice Creek Fitness Center that was covered in pine needles. Wright in turn contacted Landscape Manager John Tawaststjerna, and the area was promptly cleaned up.

“That’s the kind of stuff where if the community can be the eyes to help their Mutuals understand where they have potential issues that could be resolved, and report those,” he said. “That’s how they can volunteer their hours and time.”

He is quick to point out that Firewise’s approach is of advocacy, not enforcement.

“There are no Firewise police, and we’re never going to go out and write citations to somebody and we’re never going to force a Mutual to do something that they can’t afford to do or don’t want to do,” he said. “We’re just here to lead them in the right direction.”

Decomposed granite, any kind of river rock or pavers, or stamped concrete are safer options, albeit all more expensive than mulch. That’s why taking “baby steps” is important, he said.

One approach might be: “Let’s pick one building and let’s pull the mulch and we’ll do hardscape, and then next year, let’s budget to do two and then the next year, let’s do two more,” he said.

While that’s easier to implement with a smaller Mutual, Wright acknowledges this would be a 10- to 20-year project for large ones.

“There are a lot of the landscape committees that are buying into it and pushing it,” he said. “It’s going to take time for the membership and the entire community to buy into it. It’s going to take them seeing it and saying, ‘You know what, that doesn’t look too bad. I can deal with that. … As long as I can still have my flowering azalea, that’s all I care about.’”