Portland firefighters have suspended the War on Fireworks.
This July 4, Portland Fire & Rescue did not respond to complaints of illegal fireworks by confiscating them and issuing fines.
That's a major policy shift from as recently as four years ago, when the fire bureau created a dedicated hotline for fireworks complaints and sent nine patrol teams of police officers and firefighters to crack down, at a cost of $110,523.
It didn't work. "We weren't having an impact," says bureau spokesman Lt. Rich Chatman. "Imagine if half the residents of Portland, all at the same time, decided to jaywalk."
Chatman says the fireworks program, "Operation Lower the Boom," mostly resulted in citizen anger by setting an expectation firefighters couldn't meet. That program has its roots in a crackdown championed in 2012 by then-City Commissioner Randy Leonard and then-Fire Chief Erin Janssens.
A memo sent by Portland Fire & Rescue this week to City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty's office says the hotline was overloaded by calls in 2015 "and PF&R came under intense media scrutiny for failing to deliver on its commitment to help eliminate the use of illegal fireworks."
That year, firefighters answered 1,386 calls of complaint from residents—but dropped or deflected another 2,926 calls because too many people were on hold.
The fire bureau started scaling back the program in 2016. It tried an online for complaints—but the memo says the bureau kept taking criticism for "setting expectations that we could not deliver on.
In 2018, firefighters "shifted away from issuing citations," according to the bureau memo. This year, and emergency dispatchers encouraged Portlanders not to call with reports of fireworks in their neighborhoods.
Chatman says the fire bureau will now go "back to the drawing board" under incoming Chief Sara Boone to try to figure out a new approach to Portland's noisiest night. "We wanted to take a year to kind of cool off," he says.