Public Safety

Police, fire department ready for busy July 4 weekend in Cedar Rapids

Set off fireworks in city limits and face a fine of up to $625

A pile of confiscated fireworks are shown on June 28, 2016, at the Cedar Rapids Fire Department. Fireworks are banned inside the city limits, except for the large, professional shows. (The Gazette file photo)
A pile of confiscated fireworks are shown on June 28, 2016, at the Cedar Rapids Fire Department. Fireworks are banned inside the city limits, except for the large, professional shows. (The Gazette file photo)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — With a big holiday weekend quickly approaching, more police officers will be patrolling the city, especially in the downtown.

“We started increasing patrols a couple weeks ago on certain nights and certain shifts and, other than already scheduled vacations, there is no time off being granted during the Fourth of July week,” Cedar Rapids Patrol Capt. Jeff Hembera said.

“We are holding back as many resources as we can, and we’re bringing in some extra officers on overtime. And our focus obviously is that we have a safe, enjoyable event downtown on the bridges, while at the same time doing our best to be responsive to fireworks complaints around the city.”

In the lead-up to the Fourth of July, the Cedar Rapids Freedom Festival packs downtown Cedar Rapids with events that started June 20 and continue through July 4.

The festival attracts an estimated 300,000 people over its two-week run, with roughly 100,000 pouring into the downtown for the big fireworks show — the largest show in Iowa — on the Fourth, according to Robyn Rieckhoff, Freedom Fest executive director.

With so many people packed into one area, the key to a safe and successful event is in the planning, Rieckhoff said.

“We’ve worked very closely with the police and fire department to put our plans together, and it is planned over a year’s time, with lots of different meetings and plans and preparations,” she said.

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With so much activity happening in the city, Hembera said the police department is anticipating an increase in calls for service.

“We definitely see an increase in calls around the Fourth of July for sure,” he said. “And that’s typical for a holiday. A lot of people are off work, it’s a time for celebration, people are gathering in large groups and sometimes there is alcohol involved, and sometimes all that can lead to problems.”

In general, the calls officers respond to most frequently over the Fourth holiday deal with disturbances, including domestic disputes, fights and high levels of noise, Hembera said. Many of those incidents, he said, involve the consumption of alcohol or other substances.

fireworks complaints

Complaints about fireworks, which are banned within the city limits, will make up the bulk of calls for service, Hembera said.

Police already have cited six people with municipal infractions for setting off fireworks inside the city limits, public safety spokesman Greg Buelow said.

The penalty for the municipal infraction can be a fine of up to $625, he said.

Officers working the many Freedom Festival events also handle traffic control and parking issues, as well as uniting lost children find their parents.

MELEE LAST YEAR

Officers also are on the lookout for potential larger problems, Hembera said.

“In the past, we’ve had some issues with groups of juveniles causing trouble or getting into fights,” he said. “So that’s something we have to be ready for.”

Last year, on the night of July 3, after the Cedar Boat Club fireworks show on the river, a Casey’s General Store on Ellis Boulevard and O Avenue NW was damaged when 25 to 40 people entered the store and started screaming, yelling and shouting obscenities. During the melee, fights broke out, merchandise was stolen and some store patrons were assaulted.

This year, the store has opted to close two hours early, at 9 p.m., to avoid potential issues. The Casey’s at Ellis Boulevard and F Avenue NW also is considering closing early.

FIREFIGHTERS

For the city fire department, preparation for the holiday weekend is a little bit different.

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Cedar Rapids Fire Marshal Vance McKinnon said it’s the fire department’s job to staff the “shoot sites” for the big fireworks shows and ensure the pyrotechnics are set up properly and safely.

Additionally, firefighters and the department’s Emergency Medical Service team prepare for an increase in medical calls over the holiday weekend, most likely due to accidents involving fireworks, he said.

“In my opinion, the only safe firework is an unlit firework,” McKinnon said.

“Take sparklers, which are legal in the city, as an example,” he said. “They burn at 1,800 degrees, and it’s not uncommon for people to light them and hand them off to their little kids.”

But the slightest touch, he said, can result in second- and third-degree burns.

The use of sparklers, he said, should be closely supervised and when they’ve burned out, the sparklers should be placed in a coffee can or bowl of water to ensure they’re extinguished.

ROAD CLOSURES

Cedar Rapids residents can expect to see road closures and restrictions, as well as limited parking, in the downtown area, local law enforcement cautioned.

Drivers are encouraged to give themselves extra time to reach their destinations and be prepared for slow-moving traffic.

Depending on the event, attendees are allowed to bring blankets, folding chairs and soft-sided coolers into event venues, and all items brought in are subject to random searches at the gate, festival director Rieckhoff said.

Weapons of any kind, glass, and fireworks are prohibited. Dogs are allowed at some of the events.

For details, visit: https://www.freedomfestival.com/.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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