Holidays

Bottle rockets nearby? One fireworks company wants you to report your neighbors.

Spot an illegal firework this Fourth of July weekend? Local fire officials say residents should stick to calling non-emergency numbers for the fastest response time.

But some local fire departments are also asking residents to use a free smartphone app called “Nail ’em” to help officials track illegal firework trends and hotspots.

Developed last year by TNT Fireworks – one of two companies allowed to sell fireworks in Sacramento County – Nail ’em lets users upload locations, times, photos, audio notes and descriptions of illegal fireworks in their area.

Reports submitted through the app are then automatically sent to the appropriate nearby fire departments. The Sacramento Police Department and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, however, do not receive those reports, according to spokesmen from both agencies.

“We are not using the app 100 percent of the way we intend to be using it next year,” said Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District spokeswoman and fire inspector Diana Schmidt. “Basically we’re using (the app) as information gathering this year, determining where we need to dedicate more resources” such as increased patrols, targeted trainings and other outreach efforts.

Acting fire marshal Jason Lee from the Sacramento Fire Department gets the Nail ’em reports sent to directly to his cellphone, said department spokesperson Chris Harvey.

“He’s getting 10 to 12 notifications per night, and that number will go up in the weekend,” Harvey said. “By Fourth of July, (he is) liable to be overwhelmed by the notifications he’s getting.”

While most local fire departments have investigators patrolling every night this coming week, Harvey said usually by the time they get to the scene of a reported incident, the illegal fireworks are gone.

“He doesn’t think of it as an effective tool to get a task member on the scene ... than simply dialing the (non-emergency) number,” said Harvey in reference to Lee.

The app has recorded 4,157 downloads in California, according to TNT Fireworks spokesman Dennis Revell. Last year, 264 reports were filed with the beta version of the app in Sacramento, and 122 more were reported in Sacramento County.

Where the app’s information could be helpful is gathering evidence in cases of grass or structure fires. If firefighters respond to a fire 15 or 20 minutes after an illegal firework is reported through the app, the department might be able to draw correlations, Harvey said.

Last week, Sacramento Metro Fire responded to a Rancho Cordova vegetation fire caused by illegal fireworks that burned 58 acres off of Douglas Road.

Fireworks cause about 40 percent of fires that occur on the Fourth of July, with most of these incidents related to either using illegal fireworks or incorrectly using state-approved fireworks, according to Cal Fire.

“Any person who starts a fire from fireworks – even accidentally – can be held liable for the costs of fighting the fire and any resulting property damage,” said Cal Fire director Chief Ken Pimlott in a statement.

In Sacramento County, those found possessing illegal fireworks will be offered an opportunity to plea to a misdemeanor charge. They will be required to serve a minimum of five days in the county jail and serve a three-year probation, according to Deputy District Attorney Amy Holliday in a press release.

In the greater Sacramento area, the following cities and agencies are participating in the Nail ’em app program, meaning that reports filed in the app are sent automatically to law enforcement and/or fire departments:

  • Folsom
  • Manteca
  • Roseville
  • Sacramento
  • Sacramento Metro Fire (including Citrus Heights and Rancho Cordova)
  • West Sacramento
  • Suisun City

To report an illegal firework, call the Sacramento Police Department non-emergency dispatch at 916-264-5471, or the Sacramento Fire Department arson tip line at 916-808-8732.

Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks: 916-321-1418, @ayoonhendricks

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