The Bakersfield Fire Department on Friday unveiled a new drone that will help monitor illegal firework activity during the Fourth of July weekend.
The drone, called the Low Orbit Incident Satellite, or LOIS, will fly above an incident command center in southwest Bakersfield, said city Fire Chief Doug Greener.
The information gleaned from it this weekend will be limited — but act as an important test for future uses, he said.
“We intend to use this resources to gather some data and to look to the future to incorporate it as a full enforcement resource, and also it’s not simply for the Fourth,” said Greener. “We will use it for training purposes as well as resources on some of our more complex fire-related instances.”
But it’s no coincidence the department will test it out this weekend, since it has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to illegal firework activity.
With the drone, the department can collect video footage and more easily pinpoint where illegal activity is occurring.
“To a degree we can do that from the ground, but we can never tell what street (the illegal activity) is on,” said Greener. “If we have that third-dimension view from above, we think we will be able to direct resources.”
Greener went on to describe some of the drone’s future uses. Users will be able to input GPS coordinates to send the drone to specific locations, and can watch live-streamed footage from a camera attached to it on an iPad or computer.
Anthony Galagaza, administrative battalion chief and public information officer for BFD, said residents “need to be aware that no matter what, there will be eyes in the sky.”
There will be 20 teams patrolling the city this weekend and the BFD and Bakersfield Police Department will not hesitate to cite those breaking the law, officials said. Under new city regulations, city firefighters may now issue administrative citations for illegal fireworks.
“What does that mean?” said Greener. “That means that we no longer need to have enough evidence to support a criminal citation...We don’t have to see someone physically light an illegal firework to cite them. We just have to have relative evidence that seems reasonable in our estimation that makes a citation warranted.”
Greener said fireworks that spin, fly or leave the ground are illegal, which include Piccolo Petes and Ground Bloom-type fireworks. To be legal, fireworks must have the State of California Fire Marshal’s seal and the slogan “Safe & Sane” on them.
To help with confiscation of illegal fireworks, BFD started a “drop-off” program Friday that runs through Sunday for residents to leave illegal fireworks, “no questions asked,” at two fire stations, Fire Station 1, 2101 H St., and Fire Station 15, 1315 Buena Vista Road, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The new strict policies are part of the department’s zero tolerance policy campaign, which began at the beginning of June. The department established the campaign in response to last year’s busy and difficult Fourth of July weekend.
In a recent column published by The Californian, Greener wrote that last year, “celebrants managed to burn down a home, burn down fences, trees, shrubs, grass, terrify pets across the city, foul the air, expend 12,000 gallons of water, rack up $66,000 worth of citations, and cause more than $500,000 in damage.”
And this year, law enforcement doesn’t expect anything less.
“I expect double citations and the reason for that this year is because we have that no tolerance policy,” said Galagaza.
Residents could face a $1,500 fine.
In a demonstration by BFD on Friday, firefighters proved how fast a firework can catch a wood-shake roof on fire. In less than 10 minutes, the fire was spreading along a small portion of a wooden roof.
The best way to avoid fines and to be safe, according to both Galagaza and Greener, is to attend a local professional fireworks show.
It’s “the only real safe and sane option,” said Greener.
To report illegal firework activity, residents can call the fireworks hotline at 868-6070.