Emergency services prepare for holiday

Local police, fire agencies take safety measures

By Patty Hastings and Paul Suarez

Published:

 

Did you know?

Fines of $250 to $500 can be issued for violating the fireworks curfew, using fireworks within city parks, hazardous use of fireworks, and using illegal fireworks.

The fireworks shows keep you entertained and grilled food keeps you satisfied, but who is keeping you safe on what is often dubbed the most dangerous holiday?

Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency will add two to three extra people to field 911 calls from 7 p.m. Wednesday until 5 a.m. Thursday.

Katy Myers, operations manager for CRESA, said the agency discourages people from calling to report noise complaints unless they suspect hazardous or illegal fireworks use or that fireworks are being discharged past curfew. On the Fourth of July, though, 911 is prepared for anything, and how busy the phones are varies from year to year.

"Every year is different," Myers said. "It depends on the day of the week and the weather."

Camas-Washougal Fire Chief Nick Swinhart said a brush unit will be on patrol from 6 p.m. to midnight in Camas while an engine and brush crew will patrol Washougal after the Camas-Washougal Concert Series fireworks display. A deputy fire marshal will also be on patrol.

"July 4 usually tends to be a busy time for us," he said.

Firefighters will keep an eye out for people using illegal fireworks or using legal ones in an unsafe manner, Swinhart said. Firefighters tend to see a few grass, brush or roof fires and the occasional fireworks-related injury.

Independence Day will be business as usual for the Vancouver Fire Department. There will be no changes to regular staffing, said Division Chief Steve Eldred.

"It's really weather-dependent," Eldred said. "The hotter it is, the more fire calls we have."

Fort Vancouver hired an engine company to stand by during the fireworks show, he said.

Typically, firefighters are busiest between 9 p.m. and midnight, when most people are having their fireworks shows, he said. Usual calls include small fires and injuries.

In 2011, there were 476 fireworks-related injuries and fires reported to the State Fire Marshal's Office by fire departments and hospitals. Most of the incidents happened on July 4 and were caused by boys and men between 15 and 21 years old, according to a Washington State Patrol bulletin.

According to the bulletin, 105 fires and 91 injuries were caused by illegal fireworks in Washington.

Additional Vancouver police staff, paid for by the Fort Vancouver Historic Trust, will monitor Independence Day at Fort Vancouver. A commander, sergeant, four officers, two neighborhood police officers and some Neighbors on Watch volunteers will walk among the expected crowd of 30,000 to 35,000 people.

These officers only patrol the Fort Vancouver celebration.

Looking for violators

Outside the Fort, the Vancouver Police Department made some assignment changes for the Fourth of July holiday and is expecting calls to be high. Police will respond to priority calls, such as hazardous and illegal firework use.

Officers also will keep an eye out for drunken drivers.

"We don't have the budget for overtime," said Kim Kapp, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Police Department. "Our numbers are considerably lower now than they were two years ago."

Washington State Patrol will be fully staffed during the day and night shifts, said Trooper Ryan Tanner, state patrol spokesman. Troopers will close some ramps on state Highway 14 and Interstate 5 near downtown Vancouver during the fireworks show at Fort Vancouver.

"It really is a great place to watch the fireworks because you get a spectacular view of them," Tanner said. "We don't want people parking along the shoulders" or stopping on the road.

Overtime sheriff's deputies will be responding to fireworks calls, looking out for drunken drivers and conducting boat patrols on rivers and lakes, Sgt. Fred Neiman said.

"Hopefully, people will use a little common sense on both sides (those who like fireworks and those who don't)," Neiman said.

Deputies will primarily respond to illegal, dangerous and hazardous activities, but can respond to noise complaints if they are outside of reasonable hours.

"We can't be everywhere," Neiman said. "I just hope everybody plays safe and sane."

Area hospitals, such as Legacy Salmon Creek, treat the Fourth of July like any other day. "It could be very busy or it could be very slow," said Brian Willoughby, Legacy spokesman. "In a given day, we might change by 20 people or more."

Legacy draws from a resource pool of available staff and brings them in as needed, and PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center operates in the same way.

Generally, around the holidays there is a slight need for additional staff in the emergency department, said Ken Cole, PeaceHealth spokesman.

"We staff very tightly based on patient volume," Cole said.

The Bonneville Power Administration in a press release said dense smoke from fireworks can cause power failures from overhead power lines.