wildfire preparedness

Fire District in the East Bay Uses New App to Fight Wildfires

The app allows the fire department to access web-enabled sprinkler systems throughout Moraga and Orinda

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Fire retardant, helicopters and tankers are all tools used to fight a wildfire. But one fire district in the East Bay has a new tool no other department has access to – an app that allows the fire chief to turn a home’s sprinkler system on and turn off with the swipe of a finger.

“I love the idea quite frankly because we won’t have to sit around worrying about it,” said John Kotowski of Orinda. “We’ll be on the road outta here!”

If a wildfire comes over this hill, the sprinklers surrounding the Kotowski’s house in the northern edge of Orinda are the first line of defense.

“There are a couple thousand houses down there and there’s not a lot to stop it so we want to stop it on this ridge,” said Kotowski. 

Which is why they handed over control of their property’s irrigation system to Chief Dave Winnacker of the Moraga-Orinda Fire District. 

“He will basically wet down the surfaces, wet down the areas and deal with it,” said Kotowski. 

Chief Winnacker teamed up with undergrad students at Vanderbilt University to come up with an app that allows his fire department to access web-enabled sprinkler systems throughout Moraga and Orinda.

“They understood that this has the true potential to help save lives,” said Hubert Ma, Vanderbilt University alum.

At least 18 homes have opted in. If a wildfire is heading this way, Chief Winnacker will take care of it.

“Through some relatively basic fire modeling, we can tell where embers are most likely to be falling and those are the areas of the community we would cycle these sprinklers on,” he said. 

Kotowski said that he knows the resources are finite, “so whatever we can do to add to it. We’re going to be protected more.”

Winnacker wants other fire chiefs across California to have this app in their tool kit. So he’s calling on Silicon Valley for their help.  

“What we really need – we need a partner who has an established system – an Amazon Alexa, a Google Home hub, an Apple hub, a large tech partner who can do this at scale so we can take advantage of the existing irrigation systems that are already present in the community,” said Winnacker.

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