A small but passionate crowd voiced their opinions on fireworks at a town hall meeting on Monday.
Making good on a promise he made following the creation of fireworks code for the city in 2017, Newton Mayor Mike Hansen hosted the meeting to review the past year with legal fireworks and gain insight from community members on where Newton should go for the coming season.
“I promised that we would go through a season and then revisit this with citizens,” Hansen said. “All of the council members are here and they are the ones that are responsible for any changes in the ordinance or keeping it as it is.”
The evening started with Newton Fire Chief Jarrod Wellik and Police Chief Rob Burdess reviewing the current city code, giving the police and fire response to fireworks in 2017 and explaining issues the departments had surrounding the newly legalized fireworks.
Current city code allows the use of fireworks from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on July 4 and 9 a.m. Dec. 31 to 12:30 a.m. Jan. 1. Those using fireworks must be 18 or under direct parent supervision, they must be used on the citizen’s own real property or with consent of the property owner. Fireworks cannot be used by any person under the influence. Should a person be in violation of the ordinance they could be charged with a simple misdemeanor with a minimum fine of $250.
“As fire chief, I requested a ban,” Wellik said. “I don’t see how you can light something on fire, let it fly out of control and have it explode somewhere.”
In 2017, the NPD received 225 complaints about fireworks compared to 52 in 2016, Burdess said. The complaints peaked in July with 172 recorded, most, Burdess said, taking place on July 4.
Issues that arose because of fireworks was the serious injury of a child, an increase in runaway pets and debris in roadways, sidewalks and other public areas.
“Even though it was legal during a certain time period on July 4, we still had safety issues that were called in,” Burdess said. “A child was laying on a picnic table and the firework went sideways instead of straight up and hit the child and exploded. That child was taken to the hospital and treated.”
Both Burdess and Wellik said from the standpoint of public safety, a ban on fireworks is the preferred route to take. One fire, serious injury or death is too many, Wellik said.
Options moving forward for the city include remaining status quo, instituting a complete ban on fireworks, making further restrictions to usage or enforcing the offense as a public nuisance or a municipal infraction.
“We had 225 complaints last year. This is for the community and our governing body to determine, is that too much?” Burdess said. “Is that too much for our community to handle, were the problems that were reported to law enforcement and fire department enough for our leadership in our community to take action and change something.”
If the ordinance is changed to a public nuisance infraction, the owner, occupant or person who controls the property where fireworks were reported to have been used will be presumed to have consented to the use of fireworks on the property by law enforcement. To enforce fireworks as a public nuisance, the current ordinance would have to be amended.
Several citizens spoke out both in favor of the use of fireworks and in favor of a complete ban within city limits. Steve Sanfratello gave a passionate plea to city officials to impose further restrictions in the coming year.
“I’m all for having fun but these are kids doing this, these are irresponsible people doing this,” Sanfratello said. “It has got to stop. I’m surprised there wasn’t a fire but if you talk about responsibility and you can’t prove it ... one of our houses is going to catch on fire and that will be the end of it.”
On the other side of the issue was fireworks proprietor Adam Vandall who opened a temporary stand selling the products in 2017.
“This might not be popular, but I would actually like to see it expanded to at least the weekend before,” Vandall said. “Some people like to test things out.”
Randy Ervin agreed that he would like to have his fireworks display on July 3 so he could also enjoy the city’s display on July 4, but he is OK with at least being able to use them on the holiday.
“We had a fantastic time, everybody took care of their own debris,” Ervin said. “We had a water hose on and sitting beside us in case something would go sideways. I think what we have to remember is we’re starting to limit people’s freedoms.”
Sanfratello was not alone in the crowd in wanting further restrictions on fireworks. Fred Chabot also gave his experience with fireworks in the past year and shared his desire to have a complete ban put in place.
“I recognize that this matter of fireworks has to do with freedoms that the state legislature gave individuals. The reason I objected to the use of consumer fireworks within city limits are the unintended consequences of people shooting off fireworks and impinging on the rights of other or injuring others in the process,” Chabot said. “Those consequences have to do with pets that are tied up and have nowhere to hide and veterans who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder that are troubled, to say the least, by blasts of fireworks that are within hearing range.”
At the conclusion of the town hall meeting, Hansen said city officials would further discuss the feedback received that evening along with additional comments that have been voiced in the past year at a council workshop on April 23.
Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or firstname.lastname@example.org