San Jose officials are urging residents to not launch illegal fireworks this Fourth of July, fearing a repeat of 2020 when the fire department ran out of units to respond to emergencies.
Last year, the San Jose Fire Department outsourced units in surrounding cities, but it still wasn’t enough, paired with the effects of budget cuts on the department.
“We were at a point last year where every single one of our fire engines was on a call and we still had calls coming in to dispatch that had to unfortunately wait,” Matt Tuttle, San Jose fire captain and president of the San Jose Fire Fighters Local 230 union, told San José Spotlight.
The San Jose Fire Department has continuously reached out to the community through visits to local schools, educational programs and videos on safety in the weeks leading up to the Fourth of July.
But officials are afraid it won’t be enough to stop people from using fireworks, leading to a serious toll on emergency workers.
Tuttle, who will work on July 4, said it’s difficult for firefighters when emergency calls are delayed due to fireworks.
“It’s a hard thing for us as firefighters mentally knowing that we can’t, in an appropriate amount of time, get to someone in need while we’re tied up dealing with illegal fireworks,” he said.
San Jose Fire Department spokesperson Erica Ray said the department received about 6,600 reports of illegal fireworks last year through its online report system. The department wasn’t able to respond to every complaint.
“We really are relying on our community to make those online reports to help us hold people accountable,” Ray said.
To help combat illegal firework use, the San Jose City Council approved a Social Host ordinance in May, which fines tenants and property owners for any fireworks launched on their property, even if they didn’t set them off.
Additionally, San Jose police and fire have increased fines for illegal fireworks. First time offenders will receive a fine of $500 to $1,000. People who commit a second offense within a period of 18 months will receive a fine of $2,000 and third time offenders will receive a fine of $3,000.
The San Jose Fire Department is also working in conjunction with SJPD and the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office to try to prevent illegal activity. All units are overstaffing to help control the issue, according to Russell Davis, deputy for the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, Tuttle and Ray.
“We’re utilizing everything we can to ensure the public’s safety,” Davis told San José Spotlight.
But Tuttle worries the fines and extra workers will not be enough to deter people from setting off fireworks in their streets and backyards.
“People will probably still do it, regardless of what the fines are,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s a perfect solution to fixing the issue.”
There’s also concern about the dry conditions created by California’s drought. San Jose and Santa Clara County officials gathered for a news conference at the parched East San Jose Foothills on Wednesday to encourage residents not to set fireworks off this weekend and instead attend sanctioned firework launches.
“All it really takes is one spark from one of those fireworks to start a fire that can have a huge impact on the community,” Ray said.
The San Jose Fire Department, SJPD and the Sheriff’s Office all share one message—they don’t want anyone to get injured this Fourth of July because of illegal activities.
“The ideal Fourth of July is no one gets hurt with using illegal fireworks,” Tuttle said.