ATWATER -- This year's Fourth of July may have been safe for residents, but for firefighters it was sometimes like the OK Corral.
While the Fire Department was trying to get illegal fireworks under control, people disregarded requests and warnings from firefighters. Some even set off fireworks at them, said Jeff Isaacs, battalion chief for the Atwater Fire Department.
As in most places, illegal fireworks are usually a problem around the Fourth of July in Atwater, and police officers couldn't be everywhere at once, Isaacs said.
"It puts people's lives and property in danger," he said. "It's a health and safety code violation, and it's a life and safety violation."
There aren't any people within the Fire Department who have the authority to write citations, which made it tough for the agency to get the situation under control. But after Isaacs made his case to the City Council, all that may change by Fourth of July next year.
The situation was referred to the Public Safety Committee, headed by Mayor Pro Tem Joe Rivero and Councilman Gary Frago. The possibility of authorizing firefighters to write citations was briefly discussed by the council.
For Fire Department personnel to write citations, they need to go through a public officer course, Isaacs said.
"We, of course, are happy to learn how to write the citations and follow all the laws properly so we're not violating anyone's civil rights," he said.
Before the firefighters go through the public officer course, the city may have to hold a public hearing and draft an ordinance, said City Manager Greg Wellman. The way people acted toward firefighters on the Fourth of July was unacceptable to him.
"I don't think the council was happy to hear the news that they've been treated in that fashion," he added. Fireworks being shot at firefighters when they were trying to ensure public safety is "over the top."
The volume of illegal fireworks this year was about the same as in recent years, said Chief Richard Hawthorne of the Atwater Police Department.
"Illegal fireworks are always an issue," he said. "We're working each year to identify those who are using them."
The Police Department wasn't able to find the people who were setting off the illegal fireworks this year, Hawthorne said. "We're limited by the number of officers we have."
In addition to regular patrol duties, the Police Department is also partly responsible for other Fourth of July functions, he said.
Isaacs and Hawthorne have been talking about having firefighters certified to write citations, but there's a legal liability that would go along with that capability.
"A lot would have to take place" for that to happen, Hawthorne said. The Atwater Fire Department is operated by Cal Fire, a state agency, which also complicates finding a solution.