The Future of Fires: Cal Poly Partners with Western Fire Officials to Protect Communities
The Cal Poly Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) Fire Institute has formed a strategic alliance with the Western Fire Chiefs Association (WFCA) to further Cal Poly’s mission of developing holistic solutions to prevent destructive wildfires and help build more resilient communities.
The alliance with the WFCA supports Cal Poly’s interdisciplinary efforts to facilitate research, education, training and the outreach needed to address the catastrophic and growing problem of wildland-urban interface fires in California and beyond.
Cal Poly’s WUI Fire Institute and the WFCA will collaborate on mitigation efforts from analysis to management, with the overall goal of providing solutions that reduce the threat to those living in WUI communities. The alliance follows the hiring of retired fire chief Frank Frievalt as the director of Cal Poly’s WUI Fire Institute in April.
Frievalt previously served as fire chief for the Mammoth Lakes Fire Protection District, division chief of operations for the Sparks Fire Department and in various other leadership roles for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Nevada and California State Fire Chiefs Associations and the University of Nevada, Reno.
“The WFCA is renowned for its innovation and thought leadership in all-things-WUI for local government fire agencies in the western U.S., making it an essential organization to collaborate with,” Frievalt said.
“The WFCA provides a turn-key, multi-state network of WUI communities that we can work with to exchange best practices, data, and transferrable lessons learned. This alliance will contribute to a new framework for strategic WUI mitigation.”
The alliance further demonstrates Cal Poly’s commitment to seeking solutions to the largescale challenges in WUI communities that impact everything from housing and the environment to public services.
Students working within the WUI Fire Institute will be exposed to a broader depth of understanding on how varying fuel types impact areas in other states, allowing them to address the issue from a global standpoint, Frievalt said.
The Cal Poly WUI FIRE Institute, comprised of Cal Poly faculty, staff and students, and partnered with industry and community members, is focused on developing and evaluating methods of managing forests and designing communities in ways that reduce wildfire severity and threats to human welfare and property while maintaining environmental and community health.
It is the first-of-its kind at a California State University campus. In 2021 three of the largest California investor-owned electric utility companies — Pacific Gas and Electric Company, San Diego Gas and Electric Company and Southern California Edison Company — pledged funding and support to assist in launching the institute.
“The Cal Poly WUI FIRE Institute has an industry reputation for responsive applied research and brings a trusted academic partner to the effort to bend down risk of life and property loss from wildfire,” said Jeff Johnson, chief executive officer of the WFCA. “Its strategic framework is comprehensive, achievable and will improve outcomes on the ground where it matters most. Our practitioner-academic alliance will yield the practical and evidence-based solutions the public and private sectors expect and need from us.”
Cal Poly will continue to collaborate with a broad cross section of stakeholders that includes agencies, industry, policy makers, community planning and design, forest management and response organizations.
“WUI communities are facing, and will continue to face for decades to come, extraordinary wildfire threats from a perfect storm of ecologic, economic and climatologic forces,” Frievalt said. “We cannot suppress our way out of these conditions. We must add mitigation, using trusted evidence-based techniques to mitigate the growing wildfire threat. Exceedingly difficult policy decisions are on final approach and legislators and administrators will need our organizations to bring evidence-based recommendations from trusted sources.”
The strategic alliance will provide the platform for the Cal Poly WUI Fire Institute and the WFCA to collaborate on mitigation efforts from analysis to management, leading to solutions that reduce the threat to those living in WUI communities.