Illegal fireworks inspire dialogue and action
PF&R was especially busy over July 4th weekend with fire response and illegal fireworks enforcement. The new (503) 823-BOOM number took more callers than the earlier non-emergency line alone and improved the Bureau of Emergency Communication's ability to handle emergency 9-1-1 calls.
Portland Fire & Rescue responded to 118 fires over the 4th of July weekend, (ten of which were structure fires) and wrote 84 citations for illegal fireworks use. Most of the fires over the weekend occurred in bark dust, grass and/or bushes. The cause of these fires varied, but the number one source was smokers' carelessness with 59 fires caused by improperly disposed of smoking materials while fireworks caused 33 fires.
Portland Fire & Rescue continued their 4th campaign of Lower the Boom with education using multiple media outlets and enforcement that included citations up to $1000 along with confiscation of illegal fireworks.
"Illegal fireworks are an enormous problem for not only fires and injuries, but they traumatize our veterans with PTSD, cause anxiety for animals, and add pollution, measured in noise, air, and litter," said Portland Fire Chief Erin Janssens. "Portland Fire & Rescue has been taking the lead on restoring safety and peace to our community. I knew from the beginning that this would take time, but I believe together we're making progress."
Chief Janssens added: "What I've heard from most people is that while illegal fireworks are clearly still a problem, we're seeing a reduction, which is a good thing. We need to continue our efforts to educate, expand our ability to take calls in a timely manner, and increase enforcement for people who are choosing to disregard the law and their neighbors."
This year, PF&R staffed a dedicated hotline (503-823-BOOM) with firefighters taking reports of illegal fireworks during peak hours. This additional staffing allowed 9-1-1 dispatchers to focus on calls for actual fires, police, and medical emergencies. The 503-823-BOOM line fielded over 1,000 calls. Dedicated dispatchers were then able to relay to police and nine patrol teams of fire inspectors paired with police officers to respond.
"Having the overflow on 823-BOOM was a life-saver. BOEC staff were able to process the true emergencies throughout the night," said Lisa Turley, Director of the Bureau of Emergency Communications for the City of Portland. "When so many calls come in per hour - and it will be interesting to see those statistics - it doesn't matter how many staff you have on duty, they cannot keep up with demand. Having our people free to concentrate on the calls that only they can handle ensured that emergencies were managed effectively all night long."
The popularity of the new hotline shows how much communities want action when it comes to illegal fireworks in their neighborhoods and the successes of Lower the Boom is helping bit-by-bit to chip away at this problem. Division Chief Merrill Gonterman estimated that up to 20% of the calls to (503) 823-BOOM were from people outside of Portland looking for a way to report fireworks in their area, ranging from as far north as Battleground, to Salem, Washington County, and Gresham.
Outside of the numbers, one of the most significant impacts of the campaign is the dialogue it has opened up about the effects of illegal fireworks in our community. People and groups feel more comfortable sharing their concerns and sometimes outrage, not only about people disregarding the law, but people disrespecting their neighbors. Illegal fireworks are not something someone does quietly in the privacy of their own home. It is not a victimless crime.
Some statistics from the July 4th weekend:
July 3rd: 27 Fires (19 caused by discarded smoking material and 3 caused by fireworks)
July 4th: 50 fires (20 caused by discarded smoking material and 17 caused by fireworks)
July 5th: 41 fires (20 caused by discarded smoking material and 13 caused by fireworks)
Total citation amount: $57,000.00
Total amount of confiscated illegal fireworks: $14,000.00
Portland Fire & Rescue wants to remind everyone to please take special care; we are at the beginning of our summer here in the Portland Metro region and expect the moisture content of fuel loads to become increasingly dry. We want to continue to caution everyone to always dispose of smoking materials properly and that any fireworks that fly into the air or move more than 6' horizontally are illegal in Oregon.
Please visit our website for more safety tips: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/fire/safety