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By Liz Highleyman
If you see a group of people deliberately setting fires at the Noe Valley Farmers' Market this month, don't worry--they're not arsonists. They're actually San Francisco firefighters out to teach Noe Valley residents a valuable safety lesson.
The unusual occasion is the kickoff to a yearlong campaign to help neighborhood residents become better prepared to fend for themselves in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.
The self-help campaign is the brainchild of the Noe Valley Preparedness Committee (NVPC), which was formed in October as an offshoot of the residents group Friends of Noe Valley. The committee hopes to help neighbors take a step-by-step approach to disaster readiness.
"We're encouraging people to focus on one thing each month," said project coordinator Mindy Kershner.
Each of 10 months during 2006, the committee will highlight one aspect of a personal preparedness plan--such as stocking an earthquake kit, knowing how to reach family and elderly neighbors, or getting up to speed on CPR and other first-aid skills.
February--which the group has dubbed "Light My Fire and Put It Out Safely Month"--will center on fire extinguishers. And firefighters working with the citywide Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) program will be the featured public attraction.
The San Francisco Fire Department will set small blazes and then give residents--from kids to seniors--an opportunity to put them out. Representatives from the Arrow Fire Protection Co. will be on hand to demonstrate how to use a fire extinguisher.
"Even if you think you know how to work one, it feels different when you actually do it," said Kershner.
The tutorial will take place on Saturday, Feb. 25, at 11 a.m. sharp, at the mini-park near the Noe Valley Farmers' Market, on 24th Street between Vicksburg and Sanchez streets.
Also as part of the event, the Preparedness Committee has arranged for Tuggey's Hardware, located nearby at 3885 24th Street, to stock extra home fire extinguishers, of the type recommended by the Fire Department (10-pound "3A-40-BC" extinguishers with a hose and metal top).
"The very small ones might be good for a small kitchen fire, but you really need something more powerful to do the job for more serious events," said Kershner. The extinguishers cost around $30, she said.
Participants can also bring their own extinguishers, which the fire experts will check to see if they're in good working order. There will be information on how to refill an extinguisher and about an upcoming NERT Training at the Noe Valley Ministry (see sidebar).
Meanwhile, the Preparedness Committee will start planning its March event, as well as continue to seek information about neighborhood readiness from local schools, businesses, and community groups.
The committee wants to find out what kind of preparedness plans other groups already have and whether they mesh well, or are in conflict with one another. One potential conflict has centered on the James Lick Middle School parking lot, Kershner said. The Noe Valley NERT team plans to use the parking lot as its primary post-disaster staging area. But the school also expects to use the same spot to gather its students. Further, city experts have warned that the lot's retaining wall could collapse in a major earthquake.
"We're trying to pinpoint any trouble spots," Kershner said.
If you'd like to join the effort, the next meeting of the Noe Valley Preparedness Committee will be Feb. 13, at 6:30 p.m. Contact Kershner at 377-3890 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for the meeting location. All neighborhood residents are welcome.
NOE NERT TRAINING IN MARCH
The Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT), a San Francisco Fire Department program created after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, aims to prepare residents to help themselves during the crucial first 72 hours after a disaster. NERT offers free disaster-preparedness training on a rotating basis in neighborhoods throughout the city.
The next NERT training in Noe Valley will begin March 4 and continue for three consecutive Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Noe Valley Ministry, 1021 Sanchez Street.
If weekday evenings better suit your schedule, another nearby class will start Feb. 27 and run for six consecutive Mondays from 6 to 9 p.m. at Dolores Plaza Condominiums, 1839 15th Street, between Dolores and Guerrero.
The 18-hour training covers earthquake awareness, hazard mitigation, fire suppression, first aid, light search and rescue, and team organization. Each training ends with a hands-on skills practice.
To sign up or get more information, visit the NERT web site at www.sfgov .org/sffdnert or contact Noe Valley NERT coordinator Maxine Fasulis at 415-641-5536.