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From hydros to dogs, responders see a number of holiday incidents

Several people pitch in to remove Paul Hoffmann
Several people pitch in to remove Paul Hoffmann' hydro, which flipped on Friday morning.
— image credit: Kimm Shride Photo

Officials responded to a number of holiday-related emergencies over Fourth of July weekend, including an accident during the annual hydroplane race around the island.

“It was a busier fourth than normal,” said Assistant Chief George Brown of Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR). Brown said VIFR crews responded to the hydroplane incident, where no one was injured, and also transported one person to the hospital for a fireworks-related injury on the Fourth of July. They also put out three brushfires caused by fireworks, and on Saturday rescued a dog that had become stuck deep in a bog after running from its home during fireworks.

Brown said there were a higher number of emergency calls on the Fourth both on Vashon and throughout King County compared with past years. He said he believes there may have been more firework activity this year because the holiday fell on a Friday.

“When you combine these things with the weekend, it changes people’s mentality,” he said.

The first emergency call came early in the morning on Friday, when one of the hydroplanes participating in the annual race around the island flipped just off the north-end ferry dock.

Paul Hoffmann, who said his boat flipped after hitting a wave wrong, was pulled out of the water and had his boat towed to shore by a boater that follows the hydros every year. Hoffmann was uninjured, but the Coast Guard and King County Sheriff’s Office both responded after someone reported the accident, and Hoffmann was issued a ticket for not wearing the proper life jacket (he was wearing a racing life vest) and not carrying a boater education card. The citation totalled less than $200, according to Dept. Charlie Akers with the King County Sheriff’s Office’s marine unit.

For decades hydros have been racing around the island at dawn on the Fourth of July, and for years officials with the King County Sheriff’s Office, who have received complaints about the early morning noise and have concerns about safety, have said that the event should be permitted. They have threatened to shut the race down, but only did so once in 1973.

Those involved in the annual race, however, say the event shouldn’t require a permit, as it’s loosely organized with no official sponsor or prize money. While they know some complain about the noise, they say far more islanders support the longstanding tradition. This year five racers participated.

Akers said that should the group obtain a free permit, they could have the life jacket and boater safety card requirements waived. He could have ticketed Hoffmann for several other violations, including not having his boat registered. However, he said the marine unit wants to work with the racers, and he cited Hoffmann for what he considered the most serious violations.

“These citations I felt were appropriate. However, I didn’t want to pile on the citations and make this guy’s life completely miserable,” he said.

Sgt. James Knauss, who supervises the marine unit, agreed.

“What we really want is them to get that application in,” he said. “What we don’t want is to be the guy out here being the bully and writing tickets.”

Knauss added that in the last two years, his office received fewer complaints about the Fourth of July race, and this holiday was the first in years that it received no complaints about the noise.

“We’re not getting the huge blasts of complaints we used to,” he said.

During the day on the Fourth of July, Vashon firefighters responded to three brushfires caused by fireworks. That number is higher than last year, Brown said, but all were put out fairly easily.

Just as darkness fell, VIFR was also called after a firework exploded in a man’s hands on Maury Island.

Brown said the man lit a mortar, an illegal firework, and was holding it in a homemade holder made of PVC piping when the firework went off, exploding the holder as well. He suffered wounds and burns on his arm and abdomen and was transported in an ambulance to Harborview.

Also on Friday, VIFR, which had extra staff for the holiday, responded when a dog that was scared by fireworks ran from his home on Bank Road into Island Center Forest and got stuck in a thick bog.

Amy Carey, a volunteer who handles lost and found dogs for Vashon Island Pet Protectors (VIPP), said neither VIPP nor emergency responders could locate the dog, a Vizsla, in the forest, and when he stopped barking they had to leave him for the night.

However, on Saturday morning a couple who lives near the forest — and incidentally had their own elderly dog run off on the Fourth — heard the dog crying in the woods. The man waded into the bog, which was thick with mud and brambles, to locate it. Carey said he stayed with the dog for about two hours until VIFR responders finally reached the dog and carried him off on a stretcher. The dog was reunited with his owner, who took him to the vet.

VIPP helped reunite eight dogs that ran off on the Fourth with their owners, Carey said, and a couple others were lost but found by others. The couple that helped the dog in Island Center Forest was still missing their own dog as of Monday.

Carey had high praise for VIFR, which she said has always been willing to help in serious incidents with dogs in need of rescue.

“It’s so great they don’t hesitate,” she said. “I’m sure they are still feeling the nettle stings and pond itch.”

As for the hydroplane, Hoffmann said on Monday that he had finished some minor repairs on his boat and only needed to replace the broken windshield. He said he plans to get his boater education card — a fairly new requirement in the state — but he was unsure whether racers would get the event permitted before next year.

A permit for the race would be free, but racers would have to obtain event insurance, explain their safety plan and negotiate with the sheriff’s office about the early morning noise, which Knauss said the office may excuse if morning is found to be the safest time of day for the race.

Hoffmann, who has raced for about four years, said one challenge is that no one person or organization heads up the event.

“Who is going to be the person that gets the permit?” he said.

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