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Fire & Rescue District gives their old brush truck to SCCF

By Staff | Jan 22, 2009

Members of the Sanibel Fire & Rescue District welcomed a new piece of apparatus into Station 1 last Wednesday afternoon by dousing the newly arrived brush truck with a blast of water from a nozzle at the very top of a fully extended Ladder 1.

The ritual, called a “wash down,” is a traditional way for fire departments to welcome new trucks, explained Sanibel Fire Chief Danny Duncan.

The new brush truck, dubbed “Brush 1,” is a brand-spanking-new Ford F-550 with a bright red paint job and gold lettering on the doors. It carries 300 gallons of water in the truck’s bed, which is delivered to a working fire via an 18 horsepower pump.

The newly arrived truck replaces a 1988 Ford F-350 model, which was donated to the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) to aid in their efforts to conduct controlled burns on SCCF property.

“The truck is in pretty good shape,” said Chief Duncan. “It’s just not in as good of shape as we’d like it to be.”

Brad Smith, Director of Wildlife Habitat Management for the SCCF, was on hand at the ceremonial “wash down” last Wednesday, where he also took possession of the donated truck’s title from Chief Duncan.

“We’re trying to raise funds for the pump engine and tank that we need for the bed,” explained Smith.

Controlled burns are not only conducted to prevent the threat of wildfire, they are a very necessary part of maintaining the delicate ecological balance on the island of Sanibel, explained Smith. Working in conjunction with the Sanibel Fire Department as well as the Division of Forestry, these controlled burns are conducted by many entities responsible for the management of large conservation areas such as SCCF (which owns and manages some 1,800 acres), J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge (which has 6,000 acres, although more than half of that is submerged) and the City of Sanibel, which also owns several hundred acres.

According to Smith, in the days before human habitation, wildfires were probably a fairly regular event.

“The island of Sanibel probably burned completely from one end to the other every four or five years,” he estimated.

Without the fires that clear out the brush and vegetation, the island would become forested, noted Smith.

“And that canopy of vegetation would block out the sunlight, which some species of plants need to survive,” he said, resulting in a completely different ecology from the one that exists today. “Wildlife such as marsh rabbits, cotton rats and endemic rice rats – which can be found no other place in the world except for Sanibel Island – as well as wading birds like egrets would cease to exist in that habitat.”

Smith also said that it was Native Americans who first learned the benefits of controlled burns.

“They would set fires that would clean out their lands, making it possible for wildlife and game to flourish,” he added. “And they would actually set fires that would drive the game right to them, making hunting a bit easier.”

Smith is not certain that the Calusa, the indigenous people who occupied this area centuries ago were aware of the benefits of burning, or if they employed those principles here.

“But I would be a bit surprised,” said Smith.

While wildfires are a common occurrence in Sanibel, said Chief Duncan, significant wildfires are not.

“Last year, we had maybe five or six on Sanibel,” he guessed. “But most of the time, they’re small fires ignited by trash, or electrical wires, or other things like that. But last year, for the first time in a few years, we also had a significant brush fire in May.”

The Sanibel Fire Department assists with controlled burns in private conservation lands when they are called upon to do so, said Chief Duncan.

“When the burn will be taking place in an area where there are homes, and other dangers to private and public property, they’ll call on us to assist,” he said.

The SCCF tries to inform the public when controlled burns are scheduled to alleviate concerns – and decrease phone calls. However, because conditions must be exactly right as far as wind speed, wind direction and dispersion index, it is sometimes not possible to give very much notice at all. Whenever you see a fire, you are urged to call the Fire Department immediately.

For more information on the non-profit Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and Wildlife Habitat Management, visit their Web site at www.sccf.org. For information concerning the Sanibel Fire & Rescue District, visit their Web site at www.sanibelfire.com.