Local officials weigh in - Area towns say “no” to fireworks

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By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

If you’re thinking about using fireworks to add some extra spark to your July 4th celebration, think again.

A bill signed into law last month allows for the sale of consumer fireworks but not necessarily their use. Local governments have been given the power to “opt out” of the new law, meaning city and county officials can have the final say in whether or not folks can set off bottle rockets, Roman candles and other super sparklers. In Clayton County, several towns—including Elkader, Monona, Marquette, McGregor and Guttenberg—are sticking by earlier decisions forbidding the use of fireworks by residents.

“Mayor Pope and I talked with the police chief, and he concurred that there are still concerns about the potential safety issues involved in allowing individuals to use fireworks,” said Elkader City Administrator Jennifer Cowsert. “Fireworks are potentially dangerous to persons and property, if handled improperly.”

Cowsert added that municipal code allows for permits to “competent operators” who can provide proof of personal injury and property damage insurance of at least $1 million.

The McGregor Council, also concerned about fire hazards, discussed the topic in-depth at its June 21 meeting. They cited several fire incidents related to fireworks in Cedar Rapids in the last month.

“The police chief and fire chief don’t want it done,” said McGregor Mayor Harold Brooks. “If something were to happen to these downtown buildings, with how [close together] they are, it would be devastating. In my opinion, I don’t think we need them.”

Mar-Mac Police Officer Rodger Sear said there was already an issue in McGregor not long ago. “A vehicle caught on fire in town and the owner thought it could be from fireworks,” he said. He noted there was some skepticism, however, as to whether the “firework” was commercial or homemade.

“It’s going to be a learning experience for a bit,” Sear said, adding that violators will likely be given verbal warnings at first. 

According to the U.S. Product Safety Commission, about 230 people seek emergency medical treatment every day for fireworks-related injuries in the month surrounding the July 4th holiday. Annually, more than 10,400 are treated for burns and other injuries from fireworks.

The ban by local governments does not extend to folks living outside city limits. If you have a rural address, you need only to obtain a no-cost permit from the county auditor’s office.

“The permit keeps dispatch aware of anything going on in case there are calls,” explained Clayton County Supervisor Ron McCartney.

Although cities can prohibit the use of consumer fireworks, they cannot impose restrictions on the sale of them. Here’s a summary of Iowa’s new law: You must be 18 or older to purchase fireworks. Sales are restricted to June 1 through July 8 for Independence Day revelers and December 10 through January 3 for holiday celebrations. Goods can be purchased from temporary fireworks tents or established retail stores. Nearly 550 licenses have been issued by the State Fire Marshall, who also maintains an up-to-date, online list of sellers: www.dps.state.ia.us/fm. At press time, there were no licensed sellers in Clayton County. The closest outlet is Wal-Mart in Manchester. 

Before the new law was passed, Iowans could purchase fireworks out of state and possess them, but they couldn’t discharge them. Missouri has long been the go-to state for Iowans and others interested in buying personal pyrotechnics. Sales tax revenues from fireworks annually top $1.5 million. The State of Iowa hopes to see $1 million in tax revenue.

The state’s nearly 80-year ban on fireworks can be traced back to two devastating events that occurred in northwest Iowa. In 1931, nearly five blocks of Spencer’s main business district was destroyed after a boy dropped a lit sparkler in a drugstore fireworks display. On July 4, 1936, a Remsen girl dropped a sparkler on a pile of gasoline-soaked rags, destroying 20 businesses and leaving 100 people homeless.

Despite the local ban on consumer fireworks, folks can still enjoy dazzling light shows next week. Guttenberg’s annual Stars & Stripes Celebration will be July 1 at dusk, which is also when Marquette shoots off fireworks. Both Monona and Garnavillo will have fireworks on July 4.

If you travel to a city that allows consumer fireworks (Dubuque, Cedar Rapids and Waterloo will all permit them), keep these safety tips in mind:

Use a flat, clear surface free of people, light the fuse and stand at a safe distance.

Do not fire from your hand, from a metal or glass container or pocket.

Never approach or try to re-ignite a firework that doesn’t light the first time.

Allow a used firework to stand for at least 20 minutes, and then submerge in water, drain, place in a plastic bag and dispose outside in a covered trash can.

Editor’s note: North Iowa Times Editor Audrey Posten contributed to this article.

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