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Iowa fireworks law may be 'silly,' but it's still the law

Things to keep in mind as you celebrate the Fourth of July

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Sen. Jeff Danielson calls Iowa’s fireworks law the “silliest law on the books when it comes to consumer products.”

But still, it’s the law.

So, as you head out for your Fourth of July celebrations this weekend, remember this: if it leaves the ground or explodes, it’s illegal. That means no firecrackers, torpedoes, skyrockets, roman candles or any other explosives “prepared to produce a visible or audible effect.”

Read more: Fireworks don't mix with vets and pets

Also, keep in mind that although you can possess fireworks in Iowa, it is unlawful to sell or shoot them off. In Cedar Rapids, it’s illegal to even have them in your possession. Sky lanterns, unless tethered to the ground, also are illegal in Cedar Rapids.

Sparklers, snakes or caps used in cap pistols are legal.

There have been several attempts to legalize fireworks in the state since they became illegal in 1937, including a bill that passed through the House but was dropped from consideration before reaching the Senate this past April.

Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, says he supports fireworks legalization that comes with a push for increased public education and responsible use training.

“There are a host of other products more dangerous than fireworks,” he said, citing the injury rate of backyard grills, which, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association, is greater than fireworks. “It’s time for Iowa to come into the 21st century and join 40 plus other states and allow both possession and use of fireworks.”

 

ENFORCEMENT

If you go by the book, selling or lighting fireworks is a simple misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $250 or more. But law enforcement officials say it’s more likely that if you’re caught using fireworks they’ll simply be confiscated.

Col. John Stuelke with the Linn County Sherriff’s Office said the “vast majority” of the time officers just “tell people to knock it off” and warn them if they have to return, they’ll charge them. With limited resources to tackle the high volume of calls regarding fireworks over the Fourth of July weekend, it can be difficult to lay down the law.

“Yes, they’re violating the law, but we don’t have enough personnel to handle every call,” Stuelke said.

“In a lot of cases, fireworks will be shot off and by the time the appropriate responders can get there, it’s probably not likely all of them are going to be caught,” added Greg Buelow, public safety spokesman for Cedar Rapids. “The reality is, it’s very difficult if calls get backed up.”

Officials recommend those calling to report unruly neighbors using fireworks do so by dialing the following non-emergency numbers:

l Cedar Rapids: 319-286-5491

l Linn County: 319-398-3911

l Iowa City: 319-356-5275

l Johnson County: 319-356-6020

 

SAFETY FIRST

Dr. Donald Linder, an emergency room physician at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids said burns are the most common type of fireworks injury he sees.

That lines up with statistics from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which reports that in 2014, 54 percent of treated injuries were burns.

That same year there were at least 10,500 fireworks-related injuries and 11 deaths, according to the CPSC. Four of the deaths resulted from house fires caused by fireworks and the other seven were from direct impact. Of the injuries, 35 percent involved children younger than 15. Half involved individuals younger than 20.

“Kids are naturally curious,” said Linder. “Be sure that fireworks, matches and lighters are all secured and out of the way.”

Buelow noted that even legal fireworks, like sparklers, are potentially dangerous because they can burn up to 1,200 degrees.

“They can stay hot for quite a while,” he said, recommending that sparklers be placed in a bucket of water after use and left there overnight to ensure they completely cool off.

Buelow also strongly advises against bringing sparklers to fireworks shows, especially when children might recklessly toss them to the ground. You could be impaled by the wire, and “you don’t want that going through your foot,” he said.

When it comes right down to it, Buelow says the best way to remain safe is to head out to one of the many fireworks shows being put on by licensed operators this holiday weekend.

“Our recommendation is to leave it to the professionals,” Buelow said. “They put on several good shows in the area.”

Added Linder: “The Fourth of July is a fun, festive time, but people just have to be careful and use common sense.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8364; elizabeth.zabel@thegazette.com

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