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Safety first

Officials want public to stay safe this holiday weekend

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
This driver, distracted by his phone and holding an alcoholic beverage, demonstrates how not to behave on the Fourth of July. Officer Joelyn Johnson, of the Fort Dodge Police Department, peers in at the driver.

As area residents prepare to celebrate America’s independence this week, local officials are reminding people to do so in a way in which everybody stays safe.

When it comes to fireworks, Fort Dodge Police Capt. Ryan Gruenberg said there’s a lot that can be done to make sure they are discharged correctly and create a celebratory light show without injuries.

He said it’s important to “respect the fireworks and the fact that they’re very powerful.”

“We want to make sure when you buy them or are looking to purchase them, you’re aware of what they can do,” he said. “What’s the purpose of the fireworks. Read the instructions on them, make sure they’re discharged properly. You don’t want to discharge a firework in the wrong direction or set it up wrong so it’s firing incorrectly.”

Gruenberg also stressed that a responsible adult should only be handling the fireworks, and they should only be launched in an open area.

“You don’t want to cause property damage to anybody or personal injury to anybody,” he said. “Be aware of what the firework is capable of and make sure you’re in a safe environment.”

Not everybody may be launching fireworks; some may travel on the open road to see family and friends.

Gruenberg said because it’s a holiday weekend, there are going to be a lot more people than usual on the roads, especially since he believes many people may end up taking Friday off to give themselves a four-day weekend.

“We encourage people to plan on taking a little bit longer to get to your destination,” he said.

Sgt. Aaron Smidt, of the Iowa State Patrol, agreed.

“I’d say the most important thing would be to use caution when traveling,” he said. “Always obey the speed limits. Don’t drink and drive, and, of course, always wear your seat belt.”

Smidt said the Iowa State Patrol does see an increase in traffic incidents around the Fourth of July weekend.

“With this being one of our major holidays for travel, you get more and see more people on the roads,” he said. “So you tend to see more excessive speeds, more aggressive driving, more of that road rage we see.”

Gruenberg said if people do plan on drinking, they should have a designated driver in place beforehand. But if they don’t plan on drinking and end up not being able to drive, they should have a backup plan.

“We encourage them to contact somebody who hasn’t been drinking,” he said. “We have cab services available 24/7 and obviously family and friends can come pick you up.”

He also stressed the importance of avoiding distracted driving.

“Not only is it against the law, but it’s a huge component in traffic accidents and fatalities, so we want to make sure we keep those down as much as we can,” he said. “Just focus on getting from Point A to Point B and have your fun when you get there.”

While Smidt said traffic incidents do increase around Independence Day, the vast majority of drivers follow the rules of the road.

“You occasionally have some people that like to push it a little bit,” he said. “All in all, everybody does a good job. They’re just in a hurry to get to their destinations. But that’s why we’re here; to make sure they do that safely.”