Cape to gauge public demand for restricting fireworks

Monday, September 29, 2003

The cities of Cape Girardeau and Jackson may lower the boom on some fireworks to improve public safety.

City officials have suggested limiting the sale and discharge of fireworks to one week rather than the current two, banning projectile or rocket fireworks, and requiring people to be at least 16 years of age to purchase fireworks.

But at this point, nothing is certain. It's all up for discussion.

The Cape Girardeau City Council will hold a public hearing on Oct. 6 to hear what city residents have to say on the subject. Mayor Jay Knudtson said the purpose of the 7 p.m. hearing at city hall is to try to gauge if the public wants new restrictions on fireworks.

Knudtson said it could help the council decide what, if any, new restrictions are needed.

The Cape Girardeau council is following in the footsteps of the Jackson Board of Aldermen, which held a public hearing in August to gauge citizen sentiment.

A Jackson firefighter's home was damaged on June 26 in a fire caused by bottle rockets, prompting talk of trying to rein in fireworks.

City officials in Jackson and Cape Girardeau have suggested that any new restrictions should be implemented in both cities to allow for better enforcement. The councilmen and aldermen are expected to discuss the issue at a joint meeting in December.

Knudtson, who said he has never discharged a single firework, said some cities have banned fireworks entirely.

But both he and Jackson Mayor Paul Sander said they aren't calling for a total ban.

Cape Girardeau police chief Steve Strong said Sikeston, Jefferson City, Kansas City and Springfield are among Missouri cities that ban the sale and discharge of fireworks.

Dexter, Mo., bans the sale of fireworks in its city limits but allows residents to discharge fireworks on the Fourth of July, Strong said.

Knudtson said fireworks have caused relatively few fires in Cape Girardeau. "I am not seeing anything that would call for an all-out ban at this point."

Knudtson said some residents love shooting off fireworks and see it as a patriotic act celebrating Independence Day.

"Even though some people view it as a constitutional right, it certainly can't be at the expense of house fires and that kind of thing," he said.

Jackson Mayor Paul Sander also said his city isn't looking to ban fireworks totally.

Some of Cape Girardeau's elderly residents, who ate lunch at the Senior Center on Friday, said they hope the council further restricts fireworks. Bottle rockets already are already are outlawed in Cape Girardeau, but they said they'd like to see all rocket type fireworks banned and the discharge of fireworks restricted to a week rather than two weeks.

"The main problem is a lack of supervision by the parents," said Russell Gardiner.

Letha C. Alexander said she sees no reason for the city to allow people to shoot off fireworks for two weeks in late June and early July. "To me, shooting them off is what you do on the Fourth of July," she said.

Robert Welker said fireworks scare dogs and cats. "I don't see anything that is patriotic about it," he said.

Welker said discharged fireworks often land in his gutter and on his roof.

"They need to do something about it," he said, because it's a safety issue.

$3,000 in city expenses

Cape Girardeau city officials say it's a cost issue too, amounting to nearly $3,000 last fireworks season in expenses for police requests for service, four fire calls, fireworks stand inspections, officer training and public education.

But Chris Wheeler, a Cape Girardeau resident and part owner of Patriot Fireworks, said he hopes city officials in both Cape Girardeau and Jackson don't overreact.

Wheeler sells fireworks from stands in Cape Girardeau and Jackson each Fourth of July season. "I sell to thousands of people in just a couple of stands. That has to account for something," he said.

Wheeler believes most Cape Girardeau and Jackson residents don't see a need for tougher fireworks laws.

Only eight people spoke at Jackson's hearing, and Wheeler expects few people will show up at the Cape Girardeau council meeting.

Wheeler said city officials need to be wary of changing the fireworks regulations when there's not a big public demand for it.

Wheeler said national statistics show a decrease in fireworks-related injuries. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 8,800 people were treated for fireworks-related injuries in 2002. In 1990, the figure was 12,000.

Wheeler said the decrease occurred even as Americans were buying and discharging more fireworks -- 190 million pounds in 2002 compared to 29 million pounds in 1976.

If Cape Girardeau and Jackson implement more restrictions on the sale and use of fireworks, it could cut into his profits, he said.

Restrictions on sales in Cape Girardeau and Jackson won't keep area residents from going elsewhere, such as to the Boomland store in Benton, Mo., to buy the fireworks they want, he said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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