SRP’s wildfire first responder valued in emergency-response community
When you think of wildfires in Arizona, you may recall Rodeo-Chediski, Wallow or Cedar, the most recent, near Show Low.
Floyd Hardin, Construction Consultant at SRP, can rattle off names of many more you may have never heard of, including Power, Ghost and Goodyear.
After all, he got to name them.
As a self-described “first responder” in wildfire situations, Hardin tracks wildfires and coordinates SRP’s response with other utilities and agencies including the Bureau of Land Management, the Arizona State Land Department, the U.S. Forest Service, and local counties and municipalities to minimize the impact to power lines and other utility operations. He also regularly educates emergency responders locally and nationally on how to deal with wildfires around utility assets to prevent damage and reduce outages.
For all his planning and preparation before wildfire season, and his tracking and communication when any fires do spark, Hardin is valued in the emergency-response community as a tremendous asset.
“He’s been a godsend,” said Pete Weaver, Director of Emergency Management for Maricopa County. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that he’s saved us millions of dollars over the years.”
Weaver said Hardin’s expertise in sharing information on when power lines can safely stay energized during wildfires has helped the county avoid needlessly moving residents to temporary shelters.
“That can be disruptive and costly,” Weaver said.
Hardin, a 31-year employee, became the go-to utility wildfire expert following the devastating Rodeo-Chediski Fire in 2002, the largest wildfire in Arizona’s history until the Wallow Fire surpassed it in 2011.
“There’s a lot we learned from that fire about the need to plan, coordinate and communicate ahead of time among different agencies,” Hardin said.
At the time, he tried to do inspections of power lines and other utility equipment at the scene of the wildfire, but it was difficult logistically, as he didn’t have an established rapport with emergency responders nor adequate training or gear to safely be on-site.
Hardin has since received emergency-response training used by emergency responders across the United States for communication and other protocols.
“Now I can live with the firefighters and be assigned to their teams and make sure communications are appropriate and applicable,” Hardin said.
In the winter and early spring, Hardin works with other utilities to update an electric grid system map for any major changes, such as equipment added or a change of contacts or protocols.
For someone who’s worked through so many wildfire seasons and seen so many of them devastate Arizona forests, Hardin would rather prevent them than chase after the raging infernos. He focuses on preventive management by consulting on prescribed burns and forest-thinning efforts. Whether letting a small lightning-caused fire burn naturally or seeing through a controlled burn, he lets authorities know the potential impact on utility operations.
“Many times, burning out those fuels keeps us from having the bigger wildfires,” Hardin said, emphasizing that smaller fires don’t scar the ground. “They only take out the low scrub brush growth, which in turn helps add nutrients back in the soil. It’s good for the environment and grows better grass, which local wildlife such as elk and deer feed on.”
During fire season, he keeps track of SRP’s key assets, including power lines and substations, along with the condition of the soil in burned areas, which can negatively affect the watersheds. He also tracks how big fires are and checks how close they are to SRP and other utility assets. Already this year, he has coordinated communications on roughly 25 fires large and small from Flagstaff to Buckeye.
Floyd Hardin said Valley residents often lose sight of the importance of wildfire prevention measures, even though everyone is affected by their impacts on the electric grid and our water supply. He recommends these 8 tips:
• Always observe no-burn days and any fire restrictions.
• Fully extinguish campfires until they’re almost cold to the touch.
• Avoid target shooting around dry vegetation and at rocks, which can set off sparks.
• Never leave any type of vehicle running idle on dry vegetation; the heat from the exhaust can start a fire.
• Don’t let trailer safety chains drag on the road, as these can spark fires if there is dry vegetation nearby.
• Make sure cigarettes are fully extinguished before disposal.
• Fireworks are not permitted on public lands at any time year-round.
• Follow any local laws and observances, including fireworks laws.
Don Breiland, Director, Risk Management, at SRP, said Hardin has an exceptional ability to bring people together from different agencies and work collaboratively toward a common goal. Breiland said, “He understands the grid, he understands wildfires and the domino effects of what can happen, and then he helps us by bringing us the latest information about what’s really happening at ground level.”
Photos by Mike Eller and Floyd Hardin. Featured Photo: Floyd Hardin surveys the Jack Fire area near two 345-kilovolt lines that carry transmission into the Valley for SRP. The fire, close to Happy Jack, was started by lightning in late May 2016.