Politics & Government

Wichita considers cracking down on big fireworks instead of relaxing rules

Wichita issued 138 citations for illegal fireworks on July 3 and 4.
Wichita issued 138 citations for illegal fireworks on July 3 and 4. File photo

What began as an effort to loosen up Wichita's restrictive fireworks law is turning into a full-fledged crackdown on things that make a big bang on the Fourth of July.

A proposed ordinance to come before the City Council on Tuesday would keep the city's current restrictions on fireworks — nothing bigger than fire fountains that can shoot sparks six feet or less.

But it would give the police and fire departments new tools to enforce the law against people who buy bigger fireworks in neighboring communities and then shoot them off within Wichita city limits.

It would also cut the hours when legal fireworks could be used and set a $250 fine for most violations.

City Hall has been working to revise the fireworks ordinance since November. Initially, the thought was to bring the city more in line with Sedgwick County and suburban cities.

State law allows pretty much any fireworks, including firecrackers, Roman candles, skyrockets and airburst mortar shells. Bottle rockets are about the only thing banned.

The county and neighboring cities' ordinances mostly mirror state law, so it's easy for Wichitans to drive a few miles and buy high-strength fireworks they can't get in the city. In many Wichita neighborhoods, the illicit activities rival professional fireworks shows for the raw firepower on display.

But in December, the council balked at approving heavier fireworks after a public hearing where most of the speakers wanted to cut the noise and fire danger that unbridled use presents.

The council then tried to hammer out a compromise of establishing "safe zones" at parks and elsewhere where residents could shoot bigger fireworks without bothering their neighbors.

But when the concept was shopped around to district advisory boards, the consensus seemed to be to "tighten up (regulation) out of respect for animals and aging people and veterans" who are especially bothered by loud fireworks, said council member Pete Meitzner.

Mayor Jeff Longwell said he never saw the city's effort as being to loosen fireworks rules like the surrounding communities, but to solve the problem of "every single neighborhood getting bombarded by large fireworks."

The proposed ordinance will make it easier to cite residents and property owners for illegal fireworks. Here's how:

Property owners could be held responsible if their tenants or others use illegal fireworks on their property or in adjacent street

The presence of spent fireworks casings on a property would be considered evidence that the property owner had consented to the illegal activity. At present, officers have to catch the violator in the act.

Parents or other adults would be held responsible for fireworks violations committed by people under 18. "For the purposes of this section, failure to supervise shall be synonymous with allow and/or permit," the draft ordinance says.

Fireworks stands, run as fund-raisers by charitable organizations, would pay a $1,500 permit fee that would be used to help fund expanded enforcement of fireworks regulations.

The dates that legal fireworks could be used would remain the same, June 27 to July 5. But the allowed hours, now 6 a.m. to midnight, would be cut to 10 a.m. to midnight.

The council will consider the new ordinance at Tuesday's meeting at City Hall, 455 N. Main, Wichita.

Here are some safety tips from the Wichita Fire Department. (Courtesy of the city of Wichita)