Salinas NOW Episode 23: Fireworks Safety

(upbeat music) – Hello, Brett. – Hi Ray, how are you? – Good. How are you? – I’m great. – Welcome to the show. – Thank you. Thank you very much. – So let’s start with
how long Brett Loomis has worked for the city and what different kinds
of capacities have you… What kind of service had
you been involved in? – I’m in my 25th year
with the City of Salinas. I started here when I was 21-years-old. – [Ray] Silver anniversary. – Silver anniversary, yeah. January 3rd, 1994 was my hire date and I’ve worked at every
fire station in the city. I started serving in the Alisal, Fire Station number 4 on Williams Road. So a young kid from Pacific Grove, being assigned to that fire station there was a lot of growing up to do. – I’m sure. – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute serving this community, it’s obviously a very diverse
and we have our challenges. You’re aware as well as anybody, some of the emergencies we
go to are pretty severe. That’s not the good part of the job but knowing that we can go
and try to make a difference that’s my DNA, that’s
what I always want to do. – Is that what made you interested if you will in terms of a career in the fire service? Was it being able to make a difference or maybe something else? Maybe a family member or… – So my uncle was a was a
firefighter with CAL FIRE then called CDF, California
Department of Forestry back in the day. But really, Ray, I’m pretty
much living my dream, as long as I can remember,
since I was about four years old I’ve wanted to be a firefighter. I was born and raised in Pacific Grove and I started the first Explorer
program in Pacific Grove because that’s how badly I
wanted to be in the fire service. I’d ride my bike all over PG, chasing the fire engines to fires. And some of my best fire service mentors I encountered there in Pacific Grove and they’re still a part of my life today. It’s just always been about that. It’s been about, how can I serve? How can I be better? I volunteer, I volunteer
at the AT&T Pro-Am and I volunteer at the
PURE Insurance Open. And I’m the president of the Salinas High School Booster Club and I’ve been doing that for four years, our kids go to Salinas High School. I guess it’s just about service. That’s what it is. – What are the challenges and sort of the trends you’ve seen over… I mean, it has to be very different than it was 25 years ago. The fire service now versus
the fire service then. – It is on a number of fronts. The management component,
the firefighting component. But just in the 25 years that
I’ve been in the fire service with the manufacturing of synthetics. The furniture that you can buy at some of the big-box stores that’s really it’s sawdust
held together with glue, the glue is made from petroleum products. so even when I came into the
fire service 25 plus years ago with my volunteer time fires didn’t develop as
rapidly as they developed now because of the different
ways of manufacturing. it’s always about getting a product out at the best cost to the manufacturer. so that is a huge challenge for us because we have to try to keep adapting to the changing situations
and training our firefighters how to best attack those types of fires. at the same time we have to train and educate the community about how to be fire safe in the home. – The prevention. – The prevention aspect, the education. Because of our call volume that you and I regularly talk about. Our ability to get firefighters
into the classrooms is pretty much diminished down to nothing because they’re responding
to so many emergencies. Fire emergencies, medical emergencies, hazardous materials incidents,
just the entire gamut. And with the advent of cell phones that has definitely
challenged the fire service because access to help is so easy and people want to do good, genuinely they want to do good. So when they’re driving
by and they see somebody who’s maybe just sleeping in the park, there might be an assumption
that they’re injured. So it’s easy to dial 911
on the cell phone and say, “I think this person is ill.
I think they need help.” so that’s a component. On the management side of things, the fire service and city
service obviously changes and you’ve been in city
service a long time. And it’s how do we do that? How do we make those changes to make sure that we’re
not shorting the community on the services that
they pay for and expect but we’re doing it efficiently
enough with the tax dollar but at the same time keeping
the firefighters safe while they’re doing it. That’s a very, very delicate balances, as recently as yesterday, you
and I kind of chatted about. And one of the things that I’ve learned more than anything else in my time and I say growing up in Salinas because I really did from a young man, there’s the value of the relationship. When I first came here
we had some challenges between the labor group and
the community in the city. And we enjoy now a very, very good labor-management relationship. There’s always gonna be bumps in the road. We’re here with a couple
of bumps right now but I’ve lived through those bumps. And I can honestly say
that my relationship with our firefighters in the community has never ever been stronger. I’ve gotten such wonderful
support from them in this journey as the interim chief. I’ve got wonderful support
from you from city management. So that’s gonna go a long ways in us looking at the fire protection that we provide the community and reaching out to the community and say, “Okay, the norm is going
to change a little bit. “How do we change it and
what does it look like?” – So you mentioned the activity of volume, what you’re tasked or challenged to perform almost daily, really. So on an annual basis we’re
talking thousands of calls, thousands of request for help one kind or the another was medical as you pointed out, somebody might be seeing
somebody sleeping on a bench and they don’t know they might be sleeping on the
sidewalk, they don’t know. Or there’s a fire that
just started in a residence and you got to go. Can you characterize that? Can you tell us a little
bit more the enormity of your scope of services
and how active you are. – So last year we responded at just under 15,000 calls for service in the City of Salinas. Record-setting. That was almost a thousand call increase over the previous year. We saw increases in every category. We saw a 10% increase in fire calls. We saw about a 10% increase
in medical emergencies, hazardous conditions,
everything that we respond to. Some of the things that the
community doesn’t know is, the fire department is really kind of the jack of all trades. When somebody needs help and they call 911 and there’s not really a
category to put it into, it gets categorized in
the fire department. Right? A lot of people say, “Well gosh,
we have always fire engines “and we were just chatting
here in the studio “a few minutes ago. “Why does this big fire engine show up “when there’s a car crash?” Well, we’re in all risk entity. We’re expected to be at a
medical emergency one minute and may be fighting a
fire the next minute. And may be going to a hazardous materials call the next minute or maybe going to a power
line down the next minute. Time and time again that large fire engine or that large ladder truck, though it’s very big behemoth
looking piece of equipment has proven to be the best platform for us to provide all of those services. Because we could be at a fire and have to leave to go to that car crash or be at the car crash and have
to leave to go to the fire. Firefighting is a very
small part of what we do but it is the most
dangerous thing that we do. We have a fire in this
town about every 17 hours. It’s not always house fire, it could be a grass fire,
could be a trashcan fire, could be a vehicle fire. That is a fire problem and we have to be ready to address that. – So that kind of translates into some you know in terms of the prevention aspect that there needs to be more, maybe more, a little more focus on that. And that brings us to this question of fireworks for example. – [Brett] Yes, fireworks. – Which is topical and I had interviewed the
animal services manager or the person, the deputy
administrative chief for the police department
who has that responsibility. And she said basically I thought the busiest time for animals and their protection and
their care was at 4th of July because of noise and all
the excitement with 4th July I said two or three days and she said, “No, it’s weeks before
and it’s weeks after.” – It is. – So you must be
experiencing the same thing with fire issues and fireworks. That’s coming up very soon when you have to be prepared. You’re probably already being
preparing your firefighters and the community now. – Yes. Yes. And I agree with Cynthia a 100%. It is definitely weeks
and sometimes a month leading up to July 4th and
that month after July 4th that we see a significant
increase in fireworks and big illegal fireworks. Obviously we have Safe and
Sane that are legal between June 28th and July 5th. – And the voters prove
that a couple of years ago. – The voters did via
referendum a couple years ago. But one of the things that, sometimes people don’t
pay attention to is that, between noon on June
28th and 10pm on July 5th is the only time that Safe
and Sane fireworks are legal in the City of Salinas. They’re not allowed to
fire them on city streets, they’re not allowed to fire
them on city sidewalks, they’re not allowed to
fire them in city parks and that’s where we find it happening time and time and time again. The illegal fireworks
are a significant impact on the entire city services. And it’s not just the City of Salinas, you know throughout the
state, San Jose, Oakland, those are just a few cities
that are all struggling with it. We are. We’re working closely
with the police department putting together an operational plans. We’ll be adding additional firefighters. For the last six or seven years we have had a building fire either leading up to or on July 4th or sometimes multiple building fires that have been fireworks cause and it’s caused a lot of damage. Fortunately we have
not had a loss of life, we’ve had injuries because of them. It’s a challenge, it’s a challenge. We’re gonna do the absolute
best we can with enforcement. There’s a lot of prevention
effort going into it. We’re working with our Boots Road Group to get the word out through every avenue, through real estate and
real estate management to get to their property
owners, through the schools, through SalinasConnect. If people start reporting
on SalinasConnect we’re going to make a
trip out to that address and we’re gonna hang
a very strongly worded notice on their door that
they have been reported, they are in violation of the law and if it’s witnessed that
we’re gonna take action. – It has to be difficult given you have to catch up with the app. – It’s very difficult. – You have to have the goods with them. – They have to have the goods with them, we have to catch them in the act. The firefighters are somewhat limited in their ability to do enforcement because we’re encountering people who are under the influence of alcohol. We’re encountering people who maybe have a criminal background. And it’s not just adults, it’s children and there are adults that
are putting children at risk. – Not a safe situation. – It is not a safe situation at all. Anything that flies in the air, anything that goes boom or bang,
those are illegal fireworks and they should not be used. If you have them, you can
safely surrender them to us. No harm, no foul, so to speak. But people just need to
stay away from those things. We have a couple of neighborhoods in town that have big block parties
with illegal fireworks. And a couple years ago with
our law enforcement partners we all went in there and
started breaking some things up and a few people got a little bit rowdy. And what happened is they
accidentally kicked over an illegal mortar in it fired
sideways through the crowd. Just a dangerous, dangerous situation. – But there is a law on the books, book for social hosting. – [Brett] There is. And the consequence of
that if you’re caught. – [Brett] There is. There is a social– – Maybe you go to detail. – There’s a social host
ordinance which basically means, if we see a property that’s engaged in illegal firework activity, we can provide an administrative
citation to that property just on the witness of the
public safety official. We try to get pictures and other things and we’ll send those out. Last year we sent out 54
administrative citation. – [Ray] There were a lot of parties. – There were a lot of parties and that was just a minute-fraction
of what was going on. And the part I enjoy
working with Chief Fresé and she’s made a comment
a couple times about just kind of the lack
of respect for the law that so many people have
here in our community. To the fact that 13 people
walked in to Permit Center, paid their $1,250 fine as
if it was nothing and said, “We’ll do it again next year.” – [Ray] Wow. – So we’re happy to cite them again and take their check again. But that’s not what we want, we want to change a
behavior is what it is. And it’s very hard to track data. We’re a data-driven
organization obviously, it’s very hard to track that data. We can go out and say that we’ve given out X number of citations but there is no meter to
determine whether or not we’ve actually changed a behavior, there’s just not a meter for that. And more citations does not
mean better enforcement, it doesn’t. But in the meantime it’s an
impact on the city budget because we have to add
additional firefighters. The police department has to
add additional police officers in an overtime capacity. Long term strategy is
going to be critical. According to the ordinance we have to be in front of city council to talk about our proposal. We’ll be doing that at the
May 3rd city council meeting. – Okay, that’s coming up. – That’s coming up. Myself and Chief Fresé and Chief Klemek from our organization will be up there sharing with council. And all I can say is that we are going to do the
absolute best job that we can with prevention first and
enforcement when necessary within what our resources
will allow us to do. – We have to almost make
it, Brett, it seems like it’s not cool to do this. Not cool to smoke cigarettes. It’s not cool to overdose
on prescription drugs, it’s not cool. – Right, exactly. There’s been a number
of different discussions about how do we do that. Do we post your neighbor’s
picture on the Facebook page and those types of things. I’m not necessarily in supportive of that because I think that
there are better ways. I think that one of the best
ways to a parent in my opinion is through their kid. If we can be more concerted once we get our staffing back up. I mentioned the shortage, at
least the fire department has. Where I can get some fire
fighters into the classrooms and reach those kids on that level, because we see so many
kids lighting fireworks. And it doesn’t matter
whether it’s Safe and Sane or illegal fireworks, that
is just plain dangerous. Children should not be lighting fireworks, they should not be using
matches or lighters or any of those types of things. – It almost falls to the parent. – It does fall to the parent ultimately. But if we can reach
out through the schools and it might be an investment
of some overtime dollars but I think it would be a wise investment. Even if we can influence two students out of every 30 student class,
we’re two students ahead, we’re two students ahead. – That’s a great idea, maybe there’s a way to implement that. – There may very well be. And I have a lot of very young,
very talented firefighters. We’re a very young organization now because of all of our hiring
who want to be more involved and they want to do more things. We’ve reached out to the ROP
program out on East Laurel and we’re getting some companies
involved in that training for the adolescents. But I think that there
are some opportunities. It’s not always the overtime
that’s draining the budget like you and I have talked about, the dollars translate into something with regards to service. And if we think that it’s
going to make a good difference in what we’re trying to achieve, I think it’s an appropriate expenditure. – Well it seems to me that the
more education, the better. It’s always difficult because you know resources is a question. And you have a very busy fire service, so getting people out to
do some community work is not always convenient
for your firefighters because you’re going into incidences. But maybe there’s a
partnership with the schools or somebody else that
can help foster that, not just at 4th of July time
but throughout the year. – We need to be reaching out well before the 4th of July. We see it predominantly on 4th of July, but New Year’s Eve, New
Year’s Day that happens. I think we had some going off
on Easter just last weekend. Just isolated pockets that I think that we
will continue to work on as we always do. – So there are some beneficiaries
though to the fireworks. – [Brett] Yes. – At least for nonprofits and that is work through
the city and through the, with the fireworks vendors. – [Brett] Yes. – How does that work? – So outlined in the
code are the nonprofit’s, the school organizations globally that have the opportunity
to apply for a lottery draw if you will. – [Ray] To have a booth. – To be able to have a booth. And so we conduct that
lottery draw publicly. I attended it a couple of weeks ago, the mayor was there
pulling the tickets for us as he always does. There were two representatives from two of the fireworks
companies there obviously. And we pull the tickets and
we notify the applicants who was selected and who wasn’t selected based on the limits within the code. And I don’t have the numbers
off the top of my head of all the selections. – Is there a dozen or so, 18? – No, it’s more than a dozen. Yeah, more than a dozen,
we’re gonna have… And they’re spread out
throughout the community, they can’t be within
600 feet of each other, so we strategically placed them in different locations. And yes, to your opening point, there are nonprofits
that very much a benefit from these Safe and Sane fireworks. I know of an aquatics program
at a local high school that brings in anywhere
between $25 and $40,000 a year and they have to because their high school doesn’t have a pool, so they have to go rent
a pool someplace else. So it’s very important
dollars that come in. And really the Safe and
Sane fireworks really are, they are safe and sane for a reason. Yes, they still do cause fires when people light them in grass
and those types of things. But they’re a fairly small contributor to our overall much larger, a much more complex problem
of the aerial fireworks and those types of things. – What can the concerned
resident or citizen do to help the fire service with a
severe fireworks issue? Because it really blossomed, as you said, there’s somewhat
a disregard for the law. There are more social parties
that people that interact seem to want to have the
fireworks of some kind, usually illegal. What can a concerned citizen do about helping the fire service? – So several things and I’m
glad you asked the question. The first thing is, we just need the community to be engaged. If they see a fireworks being shot off, illegal fireworks being shot off, there are several avenues
that they can report. They can report via 911. Aerial fireworks are classified
as an explosive device. Those are very dangerous. I would very much encourage anybody who has neighbors who
are shooting them off or they’re being shot off
in the area to contact 911. And we need some very
accurate information, please give us a specific address. If you are able to
provide some photographs of people or what’s happening, You can’t submit that to 911 but the follow-up to that is you can post it on SalinasConnect. Go to the website, download the app. We will be monitoring SalinasConnect and it will notify us automatically every time there’s a fireworks complaint. Last year in the City of Salinas we had over a thousand
reports of illegal fireworks. Now some of those were the
same fireworks understandably. But we had over a thousand
reports just to 911 and then via our website, via our tipline, via our fireworks app. But we’re trying to focus everybody back to that SalinasConnect as the primary because it’s automatic notification and we can get feedback. Sometimes the feedback might be we arrived and there were no
fireworks, understandable. But if they can give us a specific address and they can give us pictures that may be enough for us to be able to go to the
administrative site route. So that’s the biggest
thing as being involved and I know people are concerned. I know people are afraid, they
don’t want to be involved, they don’t want their neighbors to come after them or whatever it is but we heard some great things out of Boots Road the other day about what a much more positive
image Salinas is having because of our outreach and
because of our marketing. The community changes when
people are bold and step up. When people are bold and step up and say, “This is wrong and it needs to stop “and I’m going to help stop it.” Safety in a community is a partnership, whether it’s fire safety, whether it’s police safety or whatever, it’s a partnership with the community. I mentioned there’s 98 employees in the fire department, including me. There’s a 160,000 residents here. – [Ray] A point well taken. – Right. I mean we have way more
eyes in the community than I have eyes in the fire department. So the more that we can empower
them to make those reports. It does request some information but if we truly want to
go after these people that are firing them, we
have to get good statements, we have to get good information
and then we can go and say, “We have a witness who reported this, “you’re getting your citation.” – It’s like a co-production. The community is a partner
with the fire service to co-produce the solution. The basic solution is
accurate information, with the address, with the
person who is involved, the time have– – [Brett] Everything. – Everything you can that
helps the fire service. – [Brett] Exactly. – More often you can be
accurate the better off because the data can be utilized in ways that might help avert
those serious situations. Or in some ways, in
education and prevention in that neighborhood where
most the problems occur. – Exactly. We’ll be able to take the
data out of SalinasConnect and let’s say we have 200
reports in a one block area say North Salinas for example. We can take that data and we can assemble some very focused community
meeting type activities door-to-door, hang flyers or whatever, there are a number of ways. And that will be somewhat of
a telltale the following year if we see a reduction in those reports. Not the complete telltale but we would also be able
to monitor that visually and if we saw the reduction there then at least some substantiation that our outreach efforts
worked, thanks to the community. – That’s the key. – That’s the key. That is the key. Because our firefighters
and our police officers are incredibly busy
not on the 4th of July, much less 4th of July. – Usually it’s a little late
by the time they call you. – It is. They’ve been listening
in to it for a while and they been watching it for a while and then it’s like, “Well,
I’m ready to go to bed “and they’re still doing it,
so now I’m going to call.” And in the meantime, we’ve
been sent someplace else or some other type of– – Or four days before
there was an incident, they could report that earlier than waiting until the 4th of July. – And every time there
are gonna be neighborhoods where there are neighbors that… We have one not very far
behind fire station number one that in the weeks leading up to July 4th and weeks afterwards,
right about 11 o’clock three or four big aerial
fireworks and then they stopped because they know by
that time we can get out and figure out where it is. But neighbors every time that happens going to SalinasConnect,
every time that happens, it’s happened this time,
it’s happened this time, same address over and over and over again. It gives us that much more data to be able to take good solid
action to change the behavior. – Well this has been
very informative, Brett. Lots of things going on, lots of activity. Certainly many challenges in the present and in the near future
for the fire service. So we certainly appreciate you taking your time to be here on the show. I’m sure our citizens who view the program will have learned a lot more
about the fire services, what it tries to accomplish
and some of the challenges and how the community can help. – And that’s what it’s about. We’re here to serve the community and we’re here to help the
community help themselves and that’s what’s most important. – Well thanks again, Brett. – Thank you, Ray. – Appreciate it your time. – I appreciate it. (melodious instrumental music)

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