Fourth of July revelry down

By Meghan Davy Sandvold

With its combined features of alcohol consumption, large bodies of water and minor explosives, the celebration of Independence Day in most cities historically does not pass without a few battle scars incurred.

West of Minneapolis though, it was mostly just another quiet summer night.

“We had zero incidents here, and historically we don't really have a spike,” said Chaska Police Chief Scott Knight.

”You'd think with it being a holiday and people out and about, we'd have a little more business, but people were very responsible. In years past we'd occasionally get complaints from neighbors related to fireworks causing a disturbance, but we didn't see a spike in that this year. We were very well-behaved in Chaska.”

Even the revelers at Big Island on Lake Minnetonka, while still going strong, toned it down with fewer incidents and far less July 5 trash reported.

According to data from the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, which operates the water patrol on Lake Minnetonka as well as the Missisippi River, there was a decrease this year in county-wide incidents related to boating while intoxicated, minor consumption of alcohol and medical calls over the holiday weekend.

There were 11 BWIs issued, 45 minor consumptions and six medical emergencies. BWIs and minor consumption citations have dropped slowly over the last couple of years: 14 BWIs and 50 minors were issued in 2016.

Deputies also responded to the drowning of a 14-month-old boy in a pool in Maple Grove, and a near-drowning that turned out to be an alcohol-related incident on Cedar Lake in which no actual emergency services were required.

The most dramatic decrease has come in recorded medical response calls: the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office responded to 22 in 2015 over the Fourth of July weekend, and 15 last year. This year saw only six. One required transport to another facility for further treatment; the other five were considered minor.

The Sheriff's Office attributes the declines to increased messaging via media and social media, boater education and additional patrols during the past two years. According to the office, boaters are now more educated about safety requirements, laws and regulations on the lake and expect to see Sheriff's Water Patrol on the lake.

During the Fourth of July weekend, there were six Hennepin County Water Patrol boats on Lake Minnetonka 24 hours a day beginning at 6 p.m. Friday, June 30, through the morning of July 5. Two boats patrolled the Mississippi River, and two boats were kept on trailers to respond to other rivers and lakes around the county. Volunteer special deputies made up a large part of the holiday water patrol staffing.

The rest of the southwest metro saw a relatively quiet weekend as well. Eden Prairie and Prior Lake fire departments reported no firework- or holiday-related injuries over the weekend, and while Minnetonka responded to five fireworks-related complaints and one motor accident, they were minor.

The lack of major local emergencies is a trend that hopefully continues as families gear up to enjoy the second half of summer.

“Summer is considered trauma season in the ER world,” said Dr. Valerie Johnson of Two Twelve Medical Center in Chaska by email. “Specifically, water safety and injuries are a concern in the summer and are a major focus for public education, as these injuries and deaths are largely preventable.”

Dr. Johnson offered tips for safe and fun recreation:

  • Never leave your kids (or pets) alone in the car. A child's body heats up five times faster than an adult’s and the temperature in the car rises 20 degrees in the first 10 minutes.
  • Always wear a helmet (and other clothing/protective gear as appropriate). Falls and accidents will happen, and it's best to be as protected from injury as much as possible — this applies to everything from bikes and other kids toys to motorcycles for adults.
  • Someone needs to be the water watcher. Drownings are silent and almost always occur with adults in the vicinity of the victim. If you're not actively watching to see the person struggling, you'll be too late. Put down cell phones at the beach/pool and make it a habit to verbally hand off this duty from one adult to another with closed loop communication.
  • Stay hydrated. Many ER visits are related to dehydration issues and can be avoided with proper and thoughtful hydration; this especially goes for adults choosing to consume alcohol.
  • Lawn mowers are not toys and rides and should not be treated as such. Children should not ride with parents and grandparents as this can lead to them running to the machine and getting injured when adults can't hear them calling and coming.
  • Manage sun exposure. Some sun and Vitamin D are good, but be sure to monitor how long you and your kids are exposed to the sun. Use sunscreen, clothing and shady options to help avoid overexposure and burns.
  • Get outside and have fun! Despite risk of injury, the physical activity and joyful memories that come with summertime fun are certainly valuable and recommended. Just use caution and be engaged, recognizing how quickly injury and illness can occur.