Public safety officials gear up for Independence Day celebrations

Safe and sane they may be, but the hazards facing residents from fireworks leaves the county’s first responders dreading the events that inevitably arise from inattentive or impaired handling of illegal and even legal fireworks on this Independence Day weekend.

A firework in a 2014 July 4 celebration.

A firework in a 2014 July 4 celebration.

Safe and sane they may be, but the hazards facing residents from fireworks leaves the county’s first responders dreading the events that inevitably arise from inattentive or impaired handling of illegal and even legal fireworks on this Independence Day weekend.

Last year’s extended hot and dry spell leading up the holiday weekend forced Bainbridge Island to take the unprecedented step of simply banning fireworks outright — an action that had never before been taken. Predictably, that led to a sharp drop in injuries and calls to 911.

“Last year was a pretty hectic year for everyone in the county except us,” said Luke Carpenter, Kitsap County fire marshal on Bainbridge Island. “That’s just because we banned fireworks.”

Despite that, Carpenter said, Bainbridge will not ban fireworks again this year. The slightly damp forecast for this year’s holiday also helped make that decision easier, Carpenter said.

Bainbridge also decided to limit the hours in which it’s legal to set off fireworks to 5-11 p.m. on the evening of July 4 only. For the rest of unincorporated Kitsap County, the window is 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

“People need to remember those hours,” said Mike Six, Bremerton fire marshal. “It’s strictly 11 to 11.”

David Lynam, Kitsap County Fire Marshal in Port Orchard, reminded residents that fireworks purchased on a reservation may not be taken off the reservation.

“Many of the things that people like to buy on the reservation are available at the many roadside stands around the county anyway.”

At South Kitsap Fire & Rescue, shift battalion chief Mike Wenet explained, an area command center will be open and be fully operational by 2 p.m. “From that point, we’ll only answer Priority 1 and 2 calls (imminent danger to human life or structure fires),” he said.

South Kitsap will keep two  additional staff rigs ready until midnight on the fourth, when activity dramatically slows down. Additional staff are on call at a moment’s notice.

Still, things happen. When they do, it’s important to think twice about the necessity of calling 911.  Unless there really is a threat to life or other imminent danger, members of the public should think carefully before they pick up the phone. Last year, an overwhelming call volume to KITSAP 911 nearly sank the system. Public safety officials say they do want people to call if there is a real emergency, but KITSAP 911 does ask that people stay off the phone to keep the lines open for people who really need it.

Last year, even though KITSAP 911 had staffed up in preparation for the holiday weekend, the number of calls nearly brought the system to a halt. Between 7 p.m. on the evening of the fourth and 7 a.m. the next day, KITSAP 911 personnel recorded 889 events — double the usual number. At peak, between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., 911 received 223 calls in that single hour. The normal volume is about 30.

So KITSAP 911 set up a special, non-emergency fireworks complaint line. That number is 360-307-5811.

“All of us kind of dread the July 4th holiday,” said Bremerton’s Mike Six. “For me, it’s kind of bittersweet. I enjoy the sights and the sounds, but it seems like every year we have one or two knuckleheads who spoil it for everyone.”

Six noted that the additional damp weather will help keep things under control, too.

Perhaps the best advice, officials say, is the most obvious — attend one of the public shows instead for your bang-boom-poof-zowie fix.


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