Wednesday, December 31, 2008

How to prevent thefts of Smokey Bear signs

Teresa Stepzinski/The Times-Union

In the story from jacksonville.com below, Fire Chief Michael Carver of the Hortense Volunteer Fire Department in Georgia laments the fact that thieves keep keep stealing their Smokey Bear images and the adjectives (Low, Moderate, etc.) from their fire danger sign. When I worked as a Fire Prevention Technician on the Cleveland National forest one of my jobs was to install and maintain signs like Chief Carver's above.

We quickly learned that to prevent the thefts of the Smokey image (which was on a sheet of aluminum or steel), we secured it with tamper-resistant bolts like the one on the right. The slide-in fire danger adjective signs were locked in with a steel bar that went all the way through both sides of the large sign and through both of the adjectives (one on each side, mounted on plywood). A padlock held the bar in place.

I also maintained 17" x 44" fire prevention signs along forest roads and highways. Cardboard posters, some with pictures of Smokey, were periodically stapled onto the signs, changing with the season. I had to pre-vandalize the Smokey posters so they would not be stolen. After stapling the poster to the plywood sign backing, I would take my Buck knife and slice the poster into pieces, making sure that there were enough staples to hold it all in place. From a distance you could not see that the sign was cut up, but none of the pre-vandalized signs were ever stolen.

From the article:
"Smokey the Bear is missing. He's gone, and we would love to have him back home where he belongs," Carver told the Times-Union on Tuesday.

Last Friday night, someone stole the handcrafted, 6-foot tall wooden Smokey Bear cut-out that was bolted to a 7-foot wide wildfire danger sign outside their fire station, Carver said. It was the latest in a series of Smokey-snatchings in Brantley County, said Chief Ranger Barry Rowell of the Georgia Forestry Commission unit in the county.

Rowell said another Smokey Bear was stolen earlier this year from its fire danger post at the Waynesville Volunteer Fire Department.

"We used to have one outside our office here, but it was stolen so many times that we finally gave up and stopped replacing it," Rowell said. "We just couldn't afford to do it."

Four of the unit's bears were stolen in as many years. Only one was recovered, but "it was all tore up," Rowell said.

The Brantley bear heists began a couple of years ago, after the forest rangers made the signs for fire departments in the county, he said.

"I really don't understand why someone is taking them, unless it's just for mischief," Rowell said.

Signs bearing the wildfire prevention icon have been targeted at forestry commission offices in neighboring counties, rangers said.

"It's aggravating because these are very hard to come by," said Chief Ranger Mark McClellan of the commission's Glynn County unit based near Sterling.

Until Smokey was moved inside a barbed wire-topped chain link fence at the unit about 2-1/2 years ago, thieves ripped off its attachable signs stating "high" and "very high," which are used to describe the daily fire danger, McClellan said.

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