This Fourth of July season is the 18th under a fireworks ban that affects Spokane and surrounding areas. Since the ban was implemented, fires from fireworks dropped from 1,043 in the 10 years before the ban to 46 in the 10 years after. Fire-related injuries dropped from 290 to 37. Brian Schaeffer, assistant chief of the Spokane Fire Department, has some suggestions about fireworks and holiday safety.
Q. Is the Fourth of July a firefighter’s least favorite holiday?
A. The answer is yes, it is, because no matter what type of ban is in place, what rules or laws are in place, it’s inevitable that someone in the city of Spokane ends up getting injured from fireworks. We’ve seen some pretty significant tragedies over the years. It’s really difficult to legislate common sense. In our minds, common sense means there are no safe fireworks with the exception of the professional fireworks shows.
Q. Have you seen fewer injuries since the full ban started 18 years ago?
A. Yes, we sure have. Not only injuries, but less property loss and property damage.
Q. What does the fire department do to prepare for the Fourth of July festivities?
A. Well this year, not unlike any other year, there will be fireworks patrols, and Crime Check will be tied into our reporting system. If people hear fireworks in their neighborhoods, they can call Crime Check and report that. If our patrol teams are available, we’ll be able to follow up on those complaints. Then we also staff up during those times of events – like during the fireworks show, we put extra apparatus in the areas where traditionally we’ve seen small fires occur.
Q. What areas in the city are traditionally “hot spot” areas?
A. Any area where there’s vacant lots, scenic lookouts, cliffs – those are traditionally areas we have problems with. It’s normally kids shooting fireworks off of those cliffs. Then the fire uses the ladder fuels below the cliff to burn up the slopes. That’s happened the last couple years.
Q. What is your best recommendation for firework watchers to stay safe?
A. Take advantage of the opportunities to see the professional displays. A lot of effort has been put into the displays. It’s always well attended. It’s fun – it’s a good family event. Mostly, follow the basic rules of safety.
Q. How do you prepare firefighters to be safe on July Fourth?
A. Really there’s no difference in the mentality on July Fourth than any other day for us. When our personnel come to work, they know there’s a high expectation of performance regardless of the date on the calendar.