Tri-Lakes UMC wins National Wildfire Mitigation Award

March 09, 2020
National Wildfire Mitigation Award - Tri-Lakes UMC
This picture was taken on February, 22, 2020, during the National Wildfire Mitigation Award presentation to Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church's (TLUMC) Emergency Preparedness Group (EPG). In the picture: TLUMC EPG members, Megan Fitzgerald-McGowan (National Fire Protection Agency), and local community political, fire, and emergency management leaders.
Submitted by Andre' Mouton
Emergency Preparedness Group
Tri-Lakes UMC, Monument, CO

The EPG was formed in response to the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire which members could see burning along the Front Range. The initial members attended a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) class in November of 2012 as the first step in their training. The Black Forest Fire then raged just miles from TLUMC in 2013, so the EPG members attended additional training designed to help residents of Black Forest recover from the damage (black mitigation) or reduce the fire hazard on their property (green mitigation).
EPG's initial goals were to use various methods to reduce wildfire risk in the Northern El Paso County area and to help residents recover from the 2013 Black Forest Fire. They worked with residents needed to do "green" or "black" mitigation but were physically and/or financially unable to do it on their own. Those initial goals are still valid but the group’s focus has swung toward teaching residents and entire neighborhoods about creating defensible space and guiding them through planning and execution of neighborhood mitigation projects. The EPG provides chippers, hand tools, and personal protective equipment as required and conducts safety training for all volunteers.
Since the EPG’s inception in 2012, they have organized and/or conducted 48 mitigation workdays assisting over 30 individual homeowners and provided support to 3 neighborhood chipping days to help about 60 more homeowners. The work was done in 10 different neighborhoods in El Paso County, including Black Forest, Red Rock Ranch (which is now one of seven National Fire Protection Association Sites of Excellence), Woodmoor, Palmer Lake, Colorado Estates, Cascade, Ute Pass, Walden, Wissler Ranch, and southern Douglas County. The EPG has teamed with several other non-profits including Black Forest Together, Hope Restored Disaster Recovery Ministry, and Sunrise United Methodist Church/Colorado Rebuilds on various projects.
The EPG hosted 7 major wildfire risk reduction information events featuring local political leaders, fire and forestry professionals, and volunteer group leaders as speakers and panel discussion members. The group also supported over 20 events held by other agencies by staffing information tables on defensible space, home hardening, evacuation planning, and emergency preparedness. Several of the EPG members attended a train-the-trainer version of the National Volunteer Fire Council’s (NVFC) Wildland Fire Assessment Program (WFAP) and are certified to teach others how to perform those assessments on properties as a foundation for mitigation efforts. 
In addition to their wildfire mitigation efforts, the EPG supports general emergency preparedness in Northern El Paso County and elsewhere by hosting and providing instructors for two 20-hour Community Emergency Response Team training events each year in conjunction with the Pikes Peak Regional Office of Emergency Management and offers four American Heart Association Heartsaver® CPR/AED/First Aid classes a year at a reduced cost. The EPG has assisted with post-fire/flood clean up on six properties and with wildfire-associated flood clean-up efforts in Berthoud, CO and Longmont, CO.
A core group plans and organizes the activities and relies on a group of volunteers who step in to help with project execution. In order to make the greatest impact, the EPG has shifted its focus from performing single-site mitigation projects to promoting and supporting neighborhood mitigation projects. The EPG is currently promoting a county-wide effort in conjunction with the Pikes Peak Regional Office of Emergency Management to encourage homeowners and neighborhoods to start the mitigation process by removing ladder fuels - the small trees, shrubs, and low-hanging branches that allow a defensible ground fire to reach up into the larger trees and create a crown fire. Ladder fuel removal not only makes each mitigated home safer, but also improves ingress and egress for evacuation and first responders. The key to this effort is identifying potential Neighborhood Ambassadors and their neighborhoods that want to learn how to perform mitigation projects and connecting them to the state forest service and/or local fire district to learn about defensible space, “home-hardening” efforts, and project planning. The EPG will provide training as needed and participate in an initial cutting and/or chipping project to provide hands-on training.
The more people and groups that are trained, the safer the community will be. The goal is for them to make mitigation a routine effort performed multiple times each year.  Where available, we are connecting neighborhoods with local fire districts that own chippers (or have access to them through other organizations) and will help them continue the mitigation work as needed.  A side benefit of these projects has seen neighbors across the street from each other meet for the first time to help each other get work done. 
For more information about the EPG or the ladder fuels mitigation program, contact the EPG at or go to the EPG Facebook page at to see "before & after" photos of our projects and our dirty, tired, happy volunteers.