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Draper estates prepared for wildfires



Chainsaws were buzzing in the woodlands surrounding Draper Mountain Estates Saturday morning as volunteers prepared the Firewise community for wildfire season as part of National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.

Members of Team Rubicon, a disaster response organization, joined with local volunteers to take part in the day-and-a-half operation. The goal was to remove dead standing and fallen trees and other woody debris from the forest understory to reduce the amount of fuel available to a wildfire if one should break out.

Residents of Draper Mountain Estates got a first-hand look April 16, 2016, at what a wildfire can do to a community. On that day a “controlled” burn in a neighboring community got out of control, setting the woods on fire. By the time it was brought under control, 20 acres had burned.

Thankfully, no homes were lost during the wildfire. However, that’s the year the entire community entered the National Firewise Community Program, which works with community members to identify fire dangers and remove flammable materials 75-100 feet from every structure.

Mike Trahan, Team Rubicon’s field operations lead for Virginia, said preparations for Saturday’s project began about 18 months ago, but had to be put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In it’s 10th year of operations, Team Rubicon got its start in January 2010 when a group of five newly discharged Marines decided to head to Haiti to assist in the early days of the magnitude 7 earthquake that killed around 200,000 people.

Trahan said the men “worked with what they could cobble together” for several months in Haiti, then returned to the U.S. He said the Marines knew there was a need for a group of people who can respond quickly to an emergency, so they formed a group of people who wanted to continue to serve.

Today, Team Rubicon consists of over 140,000 volunteers nationwide and around 5,000 in Virginia. It’s no longer just former military.

“It’s an organization now made up of military, first responders and what we call ‘kick ass’ civilians who want to help,” said Trahan. “We come at our own expense and with assistance from donors like Deanie.”

Trahan was referring to Deanie Hall of State Farm Insurance. Hall donated $500 to help cover the cost of Saturday’s operation.

The operation included 25 volunteers from Team Rubicon. Trahan said 123 members from a 350-mile radius signed up for the project, but being a Level 5, among the team’s smallest projects, the list was whittled down to 25.

Participants are chosen based on skill set and the team member’s location. The group operates off the theory “your mother is a donor.”

Trahan explained that everyone assumes their mother is a donor to the project for which they are preparing, so “we don’t waste money. If we can manage [a project] from the local area that’s how we do it.”

While there aren’t a lot of team members in the Pulaski vicinity, as many members as possible were selected from within driving distance, including Roanoke.

Trahan responded from Northern Virginia. Other volunteers came from Maryland, Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina and West Virginia. He points out each member undergoes a high-standard background check before being accepted to ensure the public they are solid individuals.

The group is hopeful their assistance with the Draper Mountain Estates project will help them get the word out about Team Rubicon and entice others to join. Anyone interested in joining can find out more about the team and membership at www. teamrubiconusa.org.

“We’re about inclusivity, so there is a lot of diversity within the organization. We call ourselves gray shirts because it doesn’t matter if you’re someone who’s been with us for years or this is you’re first deployment, you’re just as important” said Trahan.

Five to six of Saturday’s volunteers were women. The group didn’t have a definite count on the number of women present Saturday or nationwide because “it’s the kind of thing we don’t pay attention to. There are a lot of military people so we’re used to deploying” without thinking of their fellow soldiers or team members in terms of gender, said member John Warren.

Ages of members are also diverse. The youngest allowed is 18, so membership ranges from around 18 to 75 years of age.

During the pandemic, deployment followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that prohibited members over age 65 from deploying to emergencies.

The group hasn’t been completely stationary during the pandemic, though. Members have continued to deploy to disaster situations such as tornadoes, hurricanes and flooding. Plus they have helped at COVID testing and vaccination sites and food banks.

While Team Rubicon doesn’t do a lot of wildfire mitigation, like Saturday, in the eastern states, they do a lot in western states. Trahan explains the eastern U.S. doesn’t have the same severe wildfire threat that exists out west.

The group also offers “spontaneous volunteer management” in which volunteers, such as first responders, can help with a project. This allows first responders to gain training in areas they otherwise might not receive.

So where did the team’s name come from?

It originates with the Roman Civil War in which Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River in Rome in 49 BC. Trahan said “crossing the Rubicon was always the point of no return.”

On the team’s website, “by crossing their Rubicon, the team acknowledged they were irrevocably committed to their task of helping those in need.”



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