Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day

Independence day has always been one of my favorite holidays. Even more so during my 30 years in the fire service. The concept of a holiday where minimal commercially conceived demands are placed on the celebrants is a grand one in my eyes.

No cards, gifts, dress up, linen tablecloths etc, just a simple grilled meal, frosty cold beverages and a rousing fireworks display. That works for me.

For many years, my department has O.T. staffed two type III engines (brush), a patrol unit and occasionally, an additional Type I engine for the fourth. As I always enjoyed the fourth with my family, either here or in Nebraska, I went to great measures to ensure that I was not force hired to work it. Although I failed a few times, for the most part I was successful.

The reason that we staffed the extra units on the fourth, is that the city's fireworks show is launched from atop Mt. Rubidoux, a brush covered hill/park in our city. More often than not, small brush fires are ignited on the hill by the commercial fireworks display. Occasionally, when conditions are right, these small fires get out of hand and the fire becomes larger. Sometimes large enough that the fireworks show has to be stopped until the fire(s) are extinguished.

Delays of over an hour are not unheard of. Patience rewards those who stick around, the fireworks company is not taking any of these home - they will be launched, no matter how long it takes.

Part of my enjoyment of the holiday was getting out of working it, whether dodging the force hire or finding an OT whore to cover my regular shift on the fourth. Many captains would rather take a full shift of OT from me, rather than getting force hired for a few hours in the evening.  That worked to my advantage.

On the few occasions that I did get stuck on the hill, it sucked. Mt. Rubidoux is covered in grass and brush, with patches of cactus thrown in for chuckles. It is slippery and treacherous, especially in the dark. The last year I worked it, 3 or 4 years ago, I was in charge of one fire when another Captain slipped, fell and fractured his tailbone.

Ten or so years ago, my engineer was on the hill for the fourth, when he fell and injured his shoulder. He was off for several months and required surgery to repair the damage. That episode cost the city over 60 grand between medical bills and OT to cover his spot while he healed. That's more than the fireworks show cost.

The real burr under my saddle comes not from the fire itself, but the multitude of partiers that are attending soirees at the bottom of the hill. The residents who live at the base of the hill often have large Fourth of July parties. Many of the attendees will admit that they like to watch the fires as much as they do the fireworks display. Those people are disappointed when the mountain does not burn. When infused with large amounts of alcohol, the actually cheer and provide commentary as the flames grow. Often, their verbal revelry can be heard by the crews as they put in a hose-lay or overhaul the fire.

Hearing the cheers as I watched my co-worker loaded in the utility for a ride to the hospital did not inspire positive thoughts in me. I understand that cheerers and jeerers likely did not know that someone was injured, but it still pissed me off.

Other than on top of a half empty gasoline bulk storage tank, I can't think of a dumber place to launch fireworks from. As a lifelong city resident, I understand the tradition of it and that politics and tradition will never allow the launch site to be moved. No one wants to incur the wrath of the residents over this.

So tonight, as you enjoy whatever fireworks display you watch, please keep my brothers from the KBFPD in mind. I'm betting that they are not having as good of a time as you. (or me for that matter)

My fourth will be spent with family coming over to the crib, BBQ and a trip to watch the fireworks. We usually go to a church parking lot around 7:30 or so and hang out till the show starts at 9:00. The church charges a few bucks for parking, the monet goes to the youth group. It's a mellow crowd and it is what we have always done when in town.

I hope you all have a great holiday. Though a little flawed, this is a great country where we live.

Thanks for reading,


  1. I'm glad you have a day off, this season has to have been, and continue to be, brutal for you and your crews.

  2. Brigid - Since my retirement last fall, I have EVERY day off! This year, It was sure nice knowing there was no way I was going to get sucked into the maelstrom of the fourth.

    I stopped by one of the stations yesterday, the crew said it was kind of slow for the fourth. Hopefully it stayed that way for the rest of the shift.

    The worst of fire season usually comes later in the year for us, unlike in the midwest and Rockies. But, again, it just isn't an issue for me any more.

    Thanks for the comment Brigid, good to hear from you.