Q&A: Brian Ritter

Brian Ritter is a captain and public information officer with the Ocean Shores Fire Department. With the Fourth of July quickly approaching and Ocean Shores expected to be crowded with fireworks-toting tourists and residents, it is always a hectic time for the Ocean Shores Fire Department, so Ritter answered some questions regarding fireworks and general fire safety for the summer holiday.

What are the main safety precautions people should take when lighting fireworks?

The main safety precautions would be to use only legal fireworks, make sure all fireworks are at least 100 feet away from the dune grass and are pointed in the air toward the water and not at other people. Fireworks should only be set off by adults.

What are some of examples of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen people make — you, know, the dumbest things people do — when using fireworks?

The dumbest things we see are people trying to shoot fireworks at each other or at emergency vehicles or people throwing fireworks on a campfire. Other mistakes we see are people not having a good platform from which they set off the fireworks. Without a good base the fireworks could fall over and discharge toward a person or an undesirable location. Driving drunk while lighting off fireworks from a moving vehicle and talking on a cell phone all at the same time is also not advised.

What sort of regulations and rules are there for of fireworks stands in your jurisdiction?

Fireworks stands can only sell legal fireworks in accordance to state law RCW.70.77.395 RCW 70.77.270 — June 28 from noon to 11 p.m. June 29 through July 4, 9 a.m. 11 p.m. and July 5 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. There are also insurance regulations and setback requirements that have to be followed. They all must have extinguishers on site as well. Our Fire Marshal, Lt. Curt Begley, is in charge of regulating and permits for the fireworks stands here in Ocean Shores.

When and where are people allowed to light fireworks?

Fireworks are only allowed on the beach between the Marine View Drive beach approach and the Damon Road beach approach. Fireworks are allowed on the July 2 and July 3 between the hours of noon to 11 p.m. and on the 4th of July between noon and midnight.

What are some of the major prohibitions on types of fireworks in your jurisdiction?

Only legal fireworks are permitted on the Ocean Shore’s beaches. No “bottle rockets” or “firecrackers.”

What sort of calls do you respond to most on Fourth of July?

We respond to a variety of calls on the Fourth of July. It seems that each year is different and one year it will be mainly medical calls and the next it may be dune grass fires. That’s a tough question to answer. We always see a large amount of unattended campfires on the beach and we have to put those out so children don’t burn themselves or the wind does not carry the hot embers to the dune grass. (Please extinguish your campfires completely.)

What are the special challenges to fighting fires in the dunes along the beach?

The terrain is the biggest challenge in fighting fires in the dunes. Getting water and personnel to the head of the fire to extinguish it before it spreads is crucial. Dune grass fires spread very rapidly. Having enough people on duty to get to the fire quickly is essential in the extinguishment of dune grass fires.

What are some of the tips you might provide for residents wh o want to set up a “defensible” perimeter around their homes. Any special tips on this specific to the Fourth of July?

We would advise that residents only cut brush on their property. Do not cut your neighbors’ brush or start cutting the brush in the dunes. Create an area of at least 30 feet around your house void of brush or trees that could aid the spread of fire to your home. This is called “defensible space”

What sort of physical and mental preparation do firefighters make when working on this holiday?

We plan extensively for the Fourth; we hire firefighters from throughout the state to help during the Fourth of July to make sure we have adequate staffing. We also bring in a second all-terrain vehicle so we can access the dunes quickly with personnel and water for extinguishment. The name of the game is beating the fire before it reaches structures. Last but not least, we launch an information campaign by sending press releases to all the local and state media outlets. We also hand fliers out to all the homes and hotels along the beach.

What will the Ocean Shores firefighters be eating on Fourth of July? What’s on the menu at the firehouse to keep your energy levels up?

We will be eating brown-bagged lunches while pulling our shifts on the approaches and on the beach. I think we will have the choice of turkey or roast beef sandwiches. Of course we will have some ice cream back at the station waiting for us after a hard night’s work.