Council ponders fireworks

Conrad authors plan to hold property owners responsible

Fort Dodge property owners would be held accountable for fireworks complaints, under a proposal from City Councilman Neven Conrad.

Seeking to find a solution to widespread fireworks complaints this summer, Conrad wrote a proposal which he said would give owners of properties that are the source of fireworks complaints a choice: Face a $250 fine or “rat out who shot it off.”

The council on Monday took no action on Conrad’s proposal or any other remedy for fireworks woes during a workshop session in which the elected officials received some sometimes sobering statistics and heard some complaints from residents.

“It sounded like a war,” Jeff Saunders said of the fireworks noise around his South 24th Street home. “If this is going to continue like this, we’re moving out.”

Three residents asked the council to curtail the time in which fireworks are allowed to be used, while Sue Hulett, of Pleasant Valley, urged the governing body to “ban the whole business.”

The Iowa Legislature and former Gov. Terry Branstad legalized most types of fireworks this spring.

Fireworks could legally be used from June 1 to July 8. This winter they can be legally used from Dec. 10 to Jan. 3.

During those time periods they can be used from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. And this winter they can also be used from 9 a.m. Dec. 31 to 12:30 a.m. Jan. 1.

Under the new state law, the city cannot control the time period in which fireworks can be legally sold.

Police Chief Roger Porter said that in 2016, before the new state law went into effect, there were 132 fireworks complaints between June 1 and July 8.

This year, he said, there were 491 fireworks complaints in that same time period.

Porter said just three citations were issued for fireworks violations. To issue a citation, he said, officers have to have probable cause. As a practical matter, that means they basically have to see someone lighting fireworks, he said.

Fire Chief Steve Hergenreter said an Aug. 4 fire at 1607 Fourth Ave. S. was caused by children playing with fireworks in a bedroom. The fire gutted the bedroom and caused smoke damage throughout the second floor of the house.

In a separate incident, he said, a “very small child” suffered a serious eye injury after being struck by a firework.

Hergenreter added that another child suffered a severe hand injury from fireworks in another incident.

“He had to have it in his hand or very close to his hand,” he said.

He added that police and firefighters investigated two reports of people making homemade explosives and trying to sell them. He said nothing was found.

Conrad’s proposal appears intended to address the probable cause issue cited by Porter. The councilman said his plan is “in no way perfect.”

Under his proposal, people could only shoot off fireworks on their own property.

“If you own the property, you can shoot off fireworks there and that’s it,” he said.

He said if there is a complaint and the police are called, the property owner would be held responsible.

Council members did not say on Monday when they will revisit the fireworks issue.