‘We see a whole other side’ of fireworks, from injuries to fires, says LA fire captain

By Kathryn Barnes

An explosion rocked a South LA residential neighborhood on Wednesday when the LA Police Department tried to detonate a cache of illegal fireworks they’d seized earlier in the day. Seventeen people were injured in the blast, including 10 law enforcement officers.

“Why did that explosion take place? That's part of their active investigation,” says LA Fire Department Captain Erik Scott. “But as we got there, we had to initiate a triage operation for ultimately 16 people that were transported to the hospital.”

The incident was another reminder of the potential dangers that Fourth of July weekend brings. More than 100 fire scientists posted a letter on Wednesday urging people in the western U.S. to skip the fireworks this holiday, citing heat and a record-setting drought.

According to LAFD data from last year, the department responded to 429 additional 911 calls in the 24 hours surrounding the Fourth of July.

“We see a whole other side that the general public does not see, and that's the injuries and fires that take place,” says Scott.

His department is also facing a different public health threat. The LA Times reported last month that roughly half of LAFD and LAPD officers have been vaccinated, despite being among the first group to have access to the shot(s).

“The LAFD is simply a reflection of society as a whole,” he says. Some are hesitant about the vaccine. Others have had the coronavirus and feel they’re protected by the antibodies. 

Vaccinated or not, Scott says firefighters are required to wear masks and proper protective equipment when interacting with the public and providing care to patients.

Should the vaccine be mandated for the city’s first responders? Not yet, according to Scott.

“The vaccine is still being used under FDA emergency use authorization,” he says. “If and when the FDA gives full approval, then the LAFD will be guided by the city-wide vaccination policy. Whatever is deemed appropriate by the mayor and the City Council is what the fire department will then do.”