Politics & Government

Wichita neighbors who shoot big fireworks could face cops in unmarked cars, $250 fines

More than two dozen people were injured by fireworks in the Wichita area during the week leading up to July Fourth, hospital officials said.
More than two dozen people were injured by fireworks in the Wichita area during the week leading up to July Fourth, hospital officials said. File photo

Instead of relaxing its fireworks rules, Wichita will keep its current fireworks restrictions and double down on enforcement this Fourth of July, the City Council decided Tuesday.

The council unanimously approved a recommendation from staff to toughen the city’s ordinance banning big fireworks.

“Do we think this is the perfect solution? I’m not going to hold my breath,” said Mayor Jeff Longwell.

“I’m not sure we expect to get this perfect after 30 years of issues involving fireworks complaints, and I’ll say this, I think probably 30 years of never writing a fine. If we have had any fines written in the last 30 years I bet you can count them on one hand.”

The new ordinance sets a fine of $250 for most violations involving possession or use of illegal fireworks, including those that are legally purchased in suburban cities that allow firecrackers, mortar shells, Roman candles and skyrockets.

All of those fireworks are banned in Wichita. But thousands of residents bring them home and use them, creating a Fourth of July atmosphere that critics say resembles a war zone.

The city allows only small-scale fireworks such as hand-held sparklers and “fountains” that throw sparks less than six feet.

That won’t change.

The council originally considered allowing bigger fireworks like neighboring cities do, but rejected that in December.

The city shopped various fireworks ideas around to district advisory boards, which mostly either wanted to keep the rules the way they are or make them tougher.

Another new facet this year is that police and fire investigators will use unmarked city motor pool cars to respond to fireworks complaints.

Previous enforcement efforts gave fireworks scofflaws too much warning, because they could see officers approaching in police cruisers or fire trucks and have time to get rid of the evidence, officials said.

Among the other new provisions of the ordinance:

Property owners can be held responsible if they allow banned fireworks to be used on their property or in the adjacent street.

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

Parents or other adults will 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 fundraisers by charitable organizations, would pay a $1,500 permit fee, to be used to help fund expanded enforcement of fireworks regulations.

The dates that legal fireworks can be used remains the same, June 27 to July 5. But the hours when fireworks can be used, now 6 a.m. to midnight, will be reduced to 10 a.m. to midnight.

Fireworks are fun to watch but sometimes things can go wrong. Here are some examples.