Park It by Ned MacKay: Fire season

In view of all the recent fire emergencies, it seems appropriate to provide some information about the East Bay Regional Park District Fire Department.

The park district maintains a fully equipped and trained fire department with its main station in Tilden Regional Park near Berkeley. Fire engines and other firefighting equipment are also in place at other stations throughout the district. The department provides fire prevention, fuels management, education, fire suppression, rescue and emergency medical services.

Fire Chief Aileen Thiele is supported by an assistant fire chief, five fire captains, two fire lieutenants, eight firefighters and 38 on-call firefighters.

On-call firefighters are employees who have full time district jobs, in addition to secondary assignments as firefighters. All firefighters are fully trained.

A dispatch center operates 24 hours per day in support of the district’s firefighters and police. During a fire, the district’s two police helicopters serve as observation platforms to determine fire location and speed, and best access for ground crews. The helicopters are equipped with Bambi buckets to fight fire from above with 250-gallon water drops.

Besides its own personnel and equipment, the park district has mutual aid agreements with CAL FIRE, the California Office of Emergency Services, and every fire department within Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. This enables rapid response to emergencies both within and outside the parklands.

The district has an active program of fire hazard reduction, which includes maintaining an 80-mile fuel break along the ridgelines between Richmond and Castro Valley. This is an area of thinned vegetation designed to delay the spread of fire in either direction between parklands and adjacent residential neighborhoods, while giving firefighters an area in which to make a stand against a fire.

During periods when dry weather and high winds increase fire danger, the park district can restrict park use or even, though rarely, close parklands. This was the case on Oct. 27 through 31, when all district parks shut down, to protect park users from multiple fires developing in the two counties and from hazards including falling tree branches and downed power lines.

The district also relies on the cooperation and assistance of park visitors. Visitors are always asked to exercise extreme care in the regional parks and other public open space. Smoking, including vaping, is prohibited in all the regional parks and trails. When weather permits, barbecues are allowed in areas designed for that purpose, or on portable barbecues in picnic areas, but not in tall, dry grass.

If you do see a wildfire in the parklands, call 9-1-1 right away. Report the location, direction of burn, and any structures or people at risk, then leave immediately. Of course visitors should always cooperate with any instructions given by firefighters, police and rangers.

For more complete information on the park district’s fire department, visit the website, www.ebparks.org. Move the cursor to “About Us” on the home page, then click on “Fire Department”. The website also has up-to-date information about any current fire conditions. Click on the “Fire Warning” icon.

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At present, the park district still has lots of enjoyable and mostly free programs on schedule for the autumn season.

Itsy bitsy spiders are the theme of a program from noon to 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10 at Tilden Nature Area near Berkeley with naturalist Jenna Collins. Bring a magnifying glass and meet at the Environmental Education Center for a walk in search of hidden arachnids.

Or if hot apple cider is more to your taste, join Jenna at the center from 3 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10 to see how fresh apples are pressed to make the drink.

The center is at the north end of Tilden’s Central Park Drive. Call 510-544-2233.

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To honor veterans, the Park District offers all active and retired military personnel free day-use parking and park entry on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, including Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont.

And there’s a Veterans Day open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 11 at Crab Cove Visitor Center in Alameda. Crab Cove was once a military facility.

The agenda includes movies in the Old Wharf Classroom from 10 a.m. to noon; a clinic on flag folding, knot tying, crafts, and a memorial wreath from noon to 4 p.m., and a low tide walk from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Crab Cove Visitor Center is at 1252 McKay Ave. off Alameda’s Central Avenue. Call 510-544-3187.

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There are lots of other programs in the works. For a full listing, visit the park district website. And remember, Fridays are free in the regional parks through the end of the year, in celebration of the district’s 85th anniversary.

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