As fireworks light the sky, firefighters Marc Fisher, left, David Rocco, second from left, Steve Thineand Mike Souza, bottom, attend to a woman who was assaulted and had her wallet stolen, Saturday night, July 3, 2010. The July 4th holiday is typically one of the busiest days of the year for firefighters. Many calls are a result of fireworks causing fires or injuries. (The Gazette, Bryan Oller) Photo by BRYAN OLLER, THE GAZETTE

Drivers might not have found a better roadside fireworks display all weekend.

A couple hours after the sun set Saturday, two bottle rockets shot into the night sky, leaving a shimmering trail of gold embers in the air as kids ran gleefully into the surrounding dark.

Ted Collas, however, only scowled at the sight. The two incendiaries blasted a mere 15 feet from the truck that Collas, a battalion chief with the Colorado Springs Fire Department, drove on the way to a medical emergency.

Perhaps his reaction would have been different if the illegal fireworks show was less common.

The Fourth of July weekend — an annual affair already regarded as one of the busiest holidays of the year for firefighters — again kept crews in Colorado Springs moving throughout the city.

In all, 29 fires were sparked in the city from 8 a.m. Saturday through 9 p.m. Sunday. The largest fire burned 1-2 acres Saturday near Bradley Road and Marksheffel Road, according to a department spokesman. Most, though, were contained to small patches of grass.

One such small blaze, located on the 1900 block of Warwick Lane, was reported after a neighbor noticed people had already lit, and extinguished, two fires earlier in the day while playing with fireworks, Collas said.

Spend a night with firefighters at Station 8 on a July 4th weekend and you’ll see what a tedious, frustrating game of Whack-A-Mole they play. No sooner do they put one fire down than they get a call of another. They must continuously shuffle their people and equipment to deal with the increased strain of battling fires sparked by fireworks.


‘Brush fire after brush fire’


The red lights fixed in the ceiling of Station 8 flipped on about 7 p.m. Saturday, signaling the night’s first call: A elderly woman had accidently pushed a button notifying emergency crews that she was in trouble, leaving Engine 8 to respond.

Medical emergencies often dominate firefighter calls. Fall victims, heart attack patients and people overdosed on drugs — these are all the responsibility of firefighters, who are often the first to respond to medical emergencies in Colorado Springs.

Saturday night proved no different for Engine 8, as a steady stream of drug overdoses and assaults kept this crew busy.

But in attending to this somewhat common occurrence, resources from elsewhere in the city — in this case, Engine 11 — had to be diverted to fight a small fire burning less than a mile away.

Such juggling of resources proved to be a common theme Saturday night as fireworks increasingly filled the sky.

“This is it. It’s brush fire after brush fire,” said Aaron Johnson, a firefighter with Engine 11.

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Unable to make arrests, Collas said he tries to talk to people he finds using fireworks,  politely sounding off on the dangers these devices present, while also offering to take them off residents’ hands.

Not many people, he laments, take him up on the offer.

Firework-related arrests are also rare, as one arrest was made from late June through mid-July last year. Figures for this year are not yet available.

Still, there is a reason that fireworks are illegal in the city, Collas said. Chief among these concerns is the danger a few hot embers could pose to what firefighters call the wildland-urban interface — the forested foothills in west Colorado Springs that contain about 30,000 houses.

“(Watching fireworks) is a part of Americana, it is a part of our heritage, and we love to enjoy the patriotism, but go to a public display” if living inside city limits, Collas said. “Here, there’s enough risk to that urban wildland interface. … that it’s just not worth the risk.”


A busy night


The lights fixed in the ceilings of Station 8 flashed again at 9:55 p.m., spurring firefighters back to their posts.

Almost simultaneously, Engine 8 responded to an assault victim as Truck 8 drove to a person suffering from an allergic reaction.

And again, authorities were forced to shuffle their resources.

As if on cue, another fire sparked while Station 8 firefighters were busy administering first aid. Ultimately, Engine 11 extinguished a second blaze that burned a patch of grass at the U.S. Post Office, 3655 E. Fountain Boulevard.

In all, Engine 8 responded to 21 calls from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Sunday — a busy day leaving almost no time for sleep.

And people throwing fireworks into a dumpster early Sunday morning ensured that one of these calls was a fire.

The dumpster was located in the same apartment complex where — just a couple hours earlier — the roadside bottle rockets had flown by Collas’ truck.

Call the writer at 476-1654.