Politics & Government

How many tickets has Wichita written for illegal fireworks?

Heavy-duty fireworks like these are legal in suburban communities, but not the city of Wichita.
Heavy-duty fireworks like these are legal in suburban communities, but not the city of Wichita. The Wichita Eagle

Wichita has gone through its first weekend of enhanced fireworks regulations with nobody getting cited for illegal celebration, a city fire official said Monday.

The promised crackdown on things that go boom in the night hasn't really started yet, said Deputy Fire Chief Stuart Bevis.

Fireworks sales began in and around Wichita on Friday and some skyrockets did fly over city neighborhoods, even though they're illegal here.

But overall, the weekend was pretty quiet and no one appears to have been cited by police or fire officials, Bevis said.

In May, the Wichita City Council rewrote its fireworks ordinance to make it easier to enforce.

Illegal use of fireworks can now be punished with a $250 citation against the user or the owner of the property where the violation occurs.

Upgraded enforcement won't start in earnest until Tuesday night, Bevis said.

Ann Marie Buerkle of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission talks about fireworks safety. This video includes dramatic fireworks demonstrations. They suggest leaving professional fireworks to the professionals and celebrate safely.

He said City Hall authorized enough funding for as many as 22 extra employees to patrol for illegal fireworks and to write citations. But the actual number will depend on how many want to work night shifts on overtime pay to do it.

The police and fire departments are concentrating their resources on Tuesday and Wednesday when illegal fireworks use is expected to peak, Bevis said.

Bevis said he had a few fire investigators out chasing complaints from neighborhoods over the weekend, but that they didn't find enough evidence to issue any citations.

People suspected of using illegal fireworks were warned, but not ticketed, Bevis said.

Private use of full-power fireworks — including firecrackers, skyrockets and mortars — is allowed in suburban cities surrounding Wichita and in the unincorporated areas of Sedgwick County

Wichita allows only novelties like hand-held sparklers and ground-based fountains that don't throw sparks more than 6 feet.

But the city code has been largely ignored for decades as thousands of residents bought banned fireworks and shot them off in their yards or in the street.

The City Council flirted with the idea of doing away with the ordinance, since nobody was following it anyway.

But after complaints from pet owners, veterans with post traumatic stress disorder and others who find fireworks unnerving, the council decided to keep the limits and enhance the enforcement.

Under the old ordinance, police and fire officials couldn't write a citation unless they directly observed someone actually using fireworks — and they had to patrol in police cars and fire trucks that fireworks users say coming a long way away.

The new code allows them to cite the property owner if it can't be determined who was actually shooting off the fireworks. And patrols will use plain white cars from the city's motor pool on fireworks patrol, instead of emergency vehicles.

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

Dion Lefler; 316-268-6527, @DionKansas
  Comments