Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan 

On the unfunded mandate to fight fires sparked by illegal fireworks

Chief Doan loves the Fourth of July as much as anyone. Like thousands of people, he loves to watch the Independence Day pyrotechnics, especially when they're being managed by professionals. Get him talking about what he calls a failure to enforce the sale of illegal fireworks, though, and he gets pretty angry.

In anticipation of the upcoming Independence Day holiday, Doan talked about fireworks in general and the one year anniversary of the fire started by illegal fireworks that scorched the Boise Foothills.

How long have you been fighting fires?

Twenty-seven years. Nine years as Chief of the Boise Fire Department.

Am I correct in assuming that you worked in every fire station in the city?

Yes and no. I certainly worked at all of the old fire stations. As you know, Boise voters approved the replacement of outdated facilities, resulting in four new fire stations and a new training facility.

Let's talk about the Fourth of July. You've seen your share of fires on that date.

We're running all day and night. We don't want anything bad to happen, but when it's your job, you're going on call after call after call, and there's a lot of adrenaline pumping.

In a heartbeat, things can take a nasty turn.

In 2016, we had six structure fires over the Fourth of July weekend in the Treasure Valley.

I had no idea so many homes burned.

When I told that to lawmakers at the Idaho Legislature earlier this year, one legislator said, "Only six?" I couldn't believe it. Quite frustrating.

Which brings us to the pre-dawn hours of June 30, 2016. I happened to be hosting a radio show that morning. As I turned onto Parkcenter Boulevard at about 3 a.m., my heart sank. There in front of me was a huge line of flames running up the Boise Foothills.

I live in Harris Ranch, off of Parkcenter. My phone rang, and I headed to the incident command post. My home was closer to the fire than the post. It was dangerous, but our firefighters did an excellent job to limit the destruction.

If the wind had shifted, that could have headed to Harris Ranch and caused considerable destruction.

We threw everything we had at it: all of our engines and trucks. We did a great job that day.

Being that it was so close to the Fourth of July, did you suspect fireworks.

We were so busy fighting the flames. It wasn't until mid-morning somebody told me they thought it was fireworks. That didn't surprise me.

Now, here we are one year later and a 20-year-old Boise man, Taylor Kemp, has admitted to setting off a Roman candle that sparked the fire. He got some jail time, most of it suspended, but he was slapped with a huge restitution.

Almost $400,000.

You recently posted on Facebook the young man wasn't the only one at fault. You wrote, "The Idaho Legislature is equally to blame for allowing the sale of illegal fireworks."

I'm upset with the Legislature. I can't think of anything that's illegal sold openly in Idaho. Especially something this dangerous. What are we teaching our children?

Yet, when this very issue came before the House State Affairs Committee this past February, the panel chose to do nothing.

They wouldn't even give it a full hearing to hear testimony.

What happened? Do you think some outside interests were whispering in lawmakers' ears?

I suspect that some companies were sending out misinformation.

What's it going to take to get a hearing on this issue, perhaps next year?

It has to come from the public. Look at it this way: Fighting fires caused by the illegal use of fireworks is an unfunded mandate. If the legislature doesn't do its job to protect us from that, who has to pay? You do. The fire districts, the cities and towns all across Idaho are paying for this. Until the public has had enough of homes and wildlands burning, this isn't going to change.

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