Busy Fourth weekend stays safe

Considering it’s traditionally the busiest weekend of the year for law enforcement, Whidbey Island’s Fourth of July weekend went off with a fizzle, not a bang.

Island County Sheriff’s deputies were out in force throughout the long weekend, directing traffic at holiday events, monitoring a crowded highway, and responding to fireworks complaints. The South Whidbey district logged 149 calls for law enforcement assistance Friday through Monday, a rate nearly double the average daily number of calls for the island.

“When you have a lot of people on the island, you have a lot of service calls,” said Jan Smith, spokeswoman for Sheriff Mike Hawley.

Despite the numbers, there were no major incidents on South Whidbey, Smith said.

The scariest call of the weekend turned out well. A lone boater checking his crab pots south of the Clinton ferry dock was rescued by neighbors after his small rowboat capsized. The unidentified man was not wearing a life jacket.

The original 911 call mistakenly suggested that a second man was in the boat, but only one person could be seen swimming, Smith said. A Fire District 3 rescue boat was dispatched to the scene, but never launched as the man was safely on dry land by the time it arrived.

With fireworks exploding under high fire-danger conditions, there were at least two small grass fire flareups over the weekend. Both of those fires were quickly contained and extinguished.

“The weekend was uneventful. What can I say,” said FD3 Chief Dan Stout. “As far as fireworks is concerned, it all seemed to go well.”

That was from a fire response perspective. From a law enforcement perspective, fireworks complaints were the prime reason for many of the calls. Dozens of people called to complain about illegal or unsafe use of fireworks on South Whidbey, Smith said.

Deputies were also prominent at the weekend’s two main southside events, directing many hundreds of cars out of Freeland after the Celebrate America fireworks display and from Maxwelton after the Fourth of July parade.

“I always say the island is going to sink from all the people here for the Fourth,” Smith said.

Before that could happen, the weekend exodus took place, with ferry traffic backed up to near Ken’s Corner by around noon Monday.

All available enforcement power was on duty for the long weekend, Smith said. It’s uncommon for deputies to have vacation time or days off over the holiday, she said. This became an issue in bargaining union contracts, resulting in the regular shift receiving time-and-a-half and overtime hours paid at double-time.

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