Firefighters battle many obstacles on firework patrol

Published On: Aug 06 2014 08:53:37 AM CDT   Updated On: Jul 04 2014 06:41:07 PM CDT

The days surrounding July 4th are some of the busiest for fire departments across the state.

Not only is there the opportunity for more fires caused by incorrect use of fireworks, but many departments help respond to firework complaints. Eyewitness News was allowed to ride along with Wichita Fire Department's Station #1 on July 3rd to see what that might look like. We road with Fire Investigator Kelly Zane.

Lt. Zane said each fire station in Wichita has an area they are responsible to patrol during this holiday week.

"They have to patrol that area and try to find those people that are shooting off illegal fireworks," said Lt. Zane. "They have the option of talking to them and educating them or writing them a citation."

One obstacle the fire department faces while doing "firework patrols" is the fact that they must respond to emergencies first. Before we could even start making the rounds, the crew was called to a house fire near 31st and Seneca. Lt. Zane said the fire was likely caused by either careless smoking or improper use of fireworks in the area.

"There were fireworks in the area at the time of the call," said Battalion Chief Sid Newby on scene. "Right now our fire investigation unit is on scene and investigating."

Lt. Zane said he hopes to prevent fires caused by fireworks by educating the public on what's legal and why those laws are in place.

"We try to make them aware of the city laws," he said. "Nothing above 6 feet tall, buy them where you shoot them, things like that."

After an hour responding to the vacant house fire, we head to our first stop on the firework patrol.

"Areas in the city that typically get more fireworks calls, we've complied a few addresses and we're going to go patrol those areas and see what we can find," said Lt. Zane. "If we can find someone shooting off fireworks, we're going to visit with them."

Lt. Zane and his partner drive slowly through the first area in east Wichita and find a group lighting fireworks in the street.

"See these people here, they're pretty cautious. They have signs out in the street to warn drivers there are kids playing."

Zane doesn't immediately see parents or adults watching the kids as they light off fireworks, so he goes to check out the situation. He finds there are several adults and gives them a few tips to keep safe.

"We're just out making sure everyone's being safe," said Lt. Zane. "Be courteous to your neighbors. What happened is we've gotten a lot of complaints in this area, that's why we are out here."

Fire crews also look for the remnants of illegal fireworks in the streets where people are lighting off fireworks. He looks for used "cakes" and "tubes" that shoot fireworks high into the air.

"In a heavily populated area the biggest thing we're worried about is personal safety," said Zane. "We don't want anyone getting hurt. So if they have a large group of people and they are shooting off fireworks and they are too close when they are going off, if something happens you can easily hurt several people. Also, in a heavily  housed area or populated area, you always stand the chance of those falling down on houses and starting a fire."

Since anything you can see over treetops and houses are illegal, it's not difficult to see them go off, but finding where they are being lit is difficult.

"You see them, but then you have to try finding out where they are shooting them and with some of the new areas and how they are designed, that can be very difficult," he said.

He said with the amount of complaints issued in Wichita, it would take too long to site every person breaking the rules. He said he uses the time as an opportunity to educate the public.

"If we see them shooting off illegal fireworks, and we do give them a warning and we come back and they are still doing it, then we will issue a citation," said Zane.

Our ride along ended when the crew was pulled away again to respond to a house explosion.

"There's only so many of us to go around," he said. "We can't be everywhere at the same time. We do the best we can to cover the areas and try to catch them in the act. If we don't catch them in the act, then we can't do anything."