Wichita residents just can’t help shooting off illegal fireworks
Wichita's enhanced fireworks enforcement prompted some street confrontations Tuesday and Wednesday nights, including a Roman candle assault on a city firefighter, the fire official in charge said Thursday.
Deputy Chief Stuart Bevis said most of the 133 people cited for illegal fireworks accepted their tickets without trouble, but there were exceptions.
In several cases, the firefighters and police officers enforcing the fireworks code were confronted by crowds participating in the illegal celebrations and backed off rather than escalate the situation, Bevis said.
"One of my guys got hit over the head by an elderly lady with a Roman candle," he said.
"That's probably not the smartest thing to do," said Mayor Jeff Longwell. "That wouldn't surprise me that there were some people who got pretty irate."
Alcohol was a factor in most of the confrontations, Bevis said.
Most of the teams had at least one police officer, but "one officer isn't enough when you've got 20 people" trying to start a confrontation, he said.
The city sent out 22 teams of firefighters and police officers in unmarked cars to write tickets Tuesday and Wednesday.
Wichita's ban on mortars, skyrockets, firecrackers and other high-strength fireworks has been on the books for decades. But all those items are readily available just outside the city limits, and the city code was seldom enforced in the past.
This year, the City Council contemplated dropping fireworks restrictions. But most people who weighed in on the ordinance wanted it toughened instead, citing negative effects such as accidents, scared pets and the impact of explosive noise on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The council set the fine at $250 and made it easier for police and fire officials to prove offenses.
"That wouldn't surprise me that there were some people who got pretty irate," Longwell said. "(That's) 133 unhappy people that received a fine of $250."
He said he would rather have simply dumped the fireworks restrictions, like the county, state and suburban cities have done.
But that's not what people wanted when the concept was floated at neighborhood meetings, he said.
He added that the rules didn't change from the perspective of the fireworks users. They'd just been getting away with violating the code for a long time.
"Thirty years, same ordinance, we're just doing a better job of enforcing it," he said.