A national animal-rights group is asking Wichita to keep its ban on exploding fireworks, to be considerate of pets, wildlife and people who can be startled and even endangered by loud bangs.
Mayor Jeff Longwell said he shares those concerns and is hoping the city can write an ordinance balancing the interests of Independence Day celebrators who want to buy and use big-bang fireworks, while minimizing the impact on animals and people with noise sensitivity.
Longwell said one possible route to compromise might be to continue to allow only small fireworks in neighborhoods, but establish some free-fire zones where residents could go to shoot off their noisier items such as skyrockets and mortar shells.
In an open letter to the mayor, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals urged that the city “maintain the (current) restrictions on fireworks for the benefit of all of Wichita's residents.”
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“To dogs, cats, and wildlife, fireworks sound like an all-out war, and they have devastating consequences,” said the letter signed by PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman. “Terrified dogs climb or dig their way out of fenced yards as they try frantically to escape the chaos. ... Many animals arrive (at animal shelters) with bloody paws and broken bones, some are never reunited with their families, and others are doomed to a worse fate.”
The letter also expressed concern over the effect of explosive noise on young children, elderly people and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The City Council decided at a workshop last week to consider loosening its fireworks rules, after the fire chief reported that the current code is practically unenforceable.
The fireworks rules are routinely ignored by residents and thousands of booms and bangs reverberate through neighborhoods before, during and after the Fourth of July.
City residents can easily buy big-bang fireworks in neighboring suburbs, and police and fire officials can’t ticket illegal use in Wichita unless they catch an individual in the act, said Fire Chief Tammy Snow.
Most violators are savvy enough to abandon their illegal fireworks if they see a fire truck or patrol car headed their way, Snow said.
Longwell said City Hall has to do something.
“What we know is that what we’re currently doing isn’t working,” he said. “To do nothing isn’t a solution.”
He said allowing sales of larger fireworks in the city – and adjusting permit fees for sales stands to match neighboring communities – could generate $200,000 to $250,000 in revenue.
That money could be used to put on “a more magnificent city display to encourage people to watch it instead of shooting off their own,” he said.
Also, “We could now have more money for enforcement, so that people aren’t setting them off too close to houses in neighborhoods (and) we could set up areas around town for proper use of fireworks,” Longwell said.
Longwell said the city might be able to use open parkland or partner with commercial businesses to create spaces for people to come in and shoot off their own fireworks and watch others do the same.
“There are plenty of safe places we could find around the city that would be more appropriate instead of setting them off 25 feet away from your neighbor’s shake shingle roof,” Longwell said.
PETA spokeswoman Audrey Shircliff said the organization continues to prefer that the city just keep its restrictions, which now limit residents to novelty items such as sparklers and small fire fountains that can shoot sparks no higher than six feet.
“Though not all people setting off (illegal) fireworks will be caught, having these regulations in place will continue to protect Wichita’s noise-sensitive animals and humans, including those who suffer from the physical and psychological effects of fireworks,” Shircliff said in an e-mail. “But if the city does move forward with looser regulations, we hope they’ll consider only permitting quiet fireworks, which provide all of the fanfare and celebration without any of the frightening noise.”
Longwell said he’d prefer limiting celebrations to quiet fireworks too. But he said that would require cooperation from the fireworks industry, which can sell explosive fireworks anywhere outside the city limits.
City Manager Robert Layton said he expects to bring a proposed ordinance for council consideration at the Dec. 19 meeting, to give council members Janet Miller and Lavonta Williams a chance to vote on it before they are replaced by recently elected members Cindy Claycomb and Brandon Johnson.
Miller has said she opposes loosening fireworks restrictions.