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Police and Fire Resources Strained on the 4th

Visalia’s 4th of July proved to be the busiest yet, as the Visalia Fire and Police Departments responded to multiple structure fires, tree and grass fires, injuries from fireworks, and a multitude of citizen-reported and self-initiated illegal fireworks reports. 

Despite extensive proactive efforts to limit the use of illegal fireworks, the actions of some resulted in the loss of homes and significant danger to the public. 

“We had three structure fires last night and we believe they were all started from fireworks,” stated Visalia Fire Chief Doug McBee. “We cannot stress enough how serious disposing of legal fireworks properly and not using illegal fireworks are. We see time and time again that too many people don’t have respect for life and property. In fact, as fire crews approached one fire, neighbors were still setting off illegal fireworks within view.”

In addition to the three structure fires, there was one vehicle fire and 10 miscellaneous fires that included grass fires, tree fire, debris fire and dumpster fires.

Due to the call volume, and active fires being addressed, additional resources were called in from Tulare County Fire, CalFire, and Farmersville City to cover fire stations during the peak times.

“The mutual aid we receive from our partners is tremendously appreciated,” noted Randy Groom, Visalia City Manager. “We always stand ready to help our neighboring communities, and we appreciate their willingness to respond when our own resources are overextended.”

Visalia Dispatch received 247 fireworks-related calls for service (out of 538 total police/fire calls for service), while 199 reports of illegal fireworks were made online through the City of Visalia’s new reporting tool. Unfortunately, the online pilot project experienced technical issues, causing the reporting feature to be unavailable at two separate times during the night.  As always, reporting by telephone was available, and was the most common method of reporting.

“Through test after test, and a strong response from June 30th through July 3rd, our online illegal fireworks reporting portal served as a great tool,” shares David van Gilluwe, City of Visalia Information Services Supervisor.

“Unfortunately, with a wave of reports coming in, we discovered the systems weaknesses and will be addressing those. We know that we have to assess the process and keep pushing forward to fix the bugs to ensure it is a solid, trustworthy tool for the future.”

Including the 199 online reports made on Wednesday, the 2018 4th of July season has seen a total of 353 reports made online. In comparison, a total of 361 calls have come through non-emergency dispatch.

“In 2017, we had 374 calls total,” states Jason Salazar, City of Visalia Police Chief. “So far in 2018, we’ve had nearly twice that many, and we know that for many the celebrating will continue through the weekend.”

Thanks to reports from the public using both the online system and calling in, Fire and Police were able to issue 65 citations on the 4th of July, bringing the total citations issued this reporting period to 76. These numbers are an all-time high, surpassing previous years high of 52 illegal fireworks citations.

Despite this success, the public has expressed some frustration with their experience reporting illegal fireworks.

To bring some context, the dispatch personnel that take calls on both the emergency and non-emergency lines are also actively involved in dispatching police and fire personnel on incidents that are in progress. With multiple active fires, and with coordination of resources from other fire departments, their hands were full, and reports of fireworks activity can overwhelm the system, preventing reporting of actual fires, injuries, and other calls that take precedence.   For that reasons, callers are sometimes disconnected abruptly, which is an unfortunate reality of the situation.  

Callers who could not get through on non-emergency lines would often call 911, and the dispatchers would have to disconnect the call, as reports of fireworks are not emergencies in progress (when other callers are dealing with active fires, injuries, etc.)  Multiple fire prevention teams (combined police/fire response units) were out in the community actively pursuing illegal fireworks users and citing those who could be caught in the act. 

It must be noted that catching someone in the act of lighting an illegal firework is extremely difficult. The City of Visalia will continue to stress the danger of illegal fireworks and asks the public for their continued help in fighting illegal fireworks use. 

“Our campaign against illegal fireworks will stay as strong and aggressive as ever,” adds Kurtis Brown, City of Visalia Fire Marshal. “The 4th of July shouldn’t be a fearful day for our residents and we need the public’s help in keeping our City safe.”

To report illegal fireworks, call City of Visalia non-emergency dispatch at 734-8116 or report them online at www.visalia.city/celebratesafely. Illegal fireworks reports cannot be accepted via social media, and all calls related to gunfire, threats and immediate danger should be made directly to 9-1-1.

Residents in possession of illegal fireworks can safely surrender the illegal fireworks at Visalia Fire Department stations across the City. A complete map of locations is available online at www.visalia.city/celebratesafely.

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