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911 kept free for emergencies Fireworks line logs 377 calls, freeing 911 for emergencies

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, July 6, 2012, at 6:44 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, July 9, 2013, at 10:11 a.m.

A special telephone number for the Fourth of July allowed 911 dispatchers to do what they’re supposed to: assess emergencies and send firefighters, police officers and paramedics where they’re needed instead of listening to someone complain about the neighbor still shooting off fireworks after the 10 o’clock news. The special line handled 377 calls Wednesday.

Randy Bargdill, 911 director for Sedgwick County, declared the new line a success.

“It worked out pretty darn good,” Bargdill said of the line, created in response to a mess of fireworks-related calls last year that resulted in some people with legitimate emergencies hearing a busy signal when they called 911 for help.

Dispatch supervisors told Bargdill they have “certainly experienced a busier night during a severe storm” than this Fourth of July.

The Fourth of July historically has been the 911 system’s busiest known night, followed by New Year’s Eve, when residents call to complain about loud parties. Severe weather may garner more calls, but dispatchers, obviously, can’t plan for those days.

Bargdill said he may press the special line into service for New Year’s Eve this year. The Eagle is not listing the phone number because it only was in effect for the Fourth of July.

There were no reports of callers getting a busy signal when calling 911 on Wednesday, Bargdill said. On the Fourth of July last year, two people who tried to report a motorcycle crash got a busy signal because of clogged lines. The motorcyclist later died. County commissioners approved setting up a special line this year to divert complaints about fireworks.

Area firefighters fought 16 house fires, a building fire and an apartment fire on Wednesday, Bargdill said.

Wichita Fire Department officials said it was too soon Thursday to say how many of those fires were fireworks-related. One on North Cleveland at 10th Street appeared to be, Bargdill said.

Wichita firefighters responded to 14 of the house fires, and Sedgwick County Fire District No. 1 and the Valley Center Fire Department responded to one each.

A week before the Fourth of July, on June 27, 911 dispatchers didn’t work any house fires. On June 28, a Thursday, they fielded two calls related to house fires.

So although the cause of the fires won’t be available until later, Bargdill said it’s likely investigators will rule that some were due to fireworks.

Spent fireworks discarded next to a house are the probable cause of a house fire early Wednesday in Park City, officials said.

Deputy Fire Marshal Greg Harlan said the fire district likely will do an educational campaign next year about how to properly dispose of fireworks.

Harlan said the fire district wouldn’t have statistics on the number of fireworks-related fires until later, but with the dry conditions, he said, “We ran a bunch, I can tell you that. It was crazy, crazy.”

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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