Public Safety

What happens if you set off fireworks illegally in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City (plus a lesson in fire safety)

Police so far have written 12 citations for fireworks violations in Cedar Rapids, none in Iowa City

Go Go Gorilla and Space Banger fireworks are seen for sale at the Iowa Fireworks tent on Bowling Street SW in Cedar Rapi
Go Go Gorilla and Space Banger fireworks are seen for sale at the Iowa Fireworks tent on Bowling Street SW in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, June 16, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Igniting consumer fireworks is illegal in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, but it’s hardly uncommon to hear them being fired off anyway as the Fourth of July nears.

Data from the Cedar Rapids Police Department shows officers had cited 12 people as of Tuesday for setting off fireworks this season within the city limits. Iowa City police had not yet issued any citations for fireworks violations.

One fireworks-related fire also has been reported in Cedar Rapids, said public safety spokesman Greg Buelow. In that incident, someone placed fireworks materials in a trash bin on the Coe College campus just after midnight Monday. The fireworks had already been set off but the materials were likely still smoldering when put in the garbage. No injuries were reported.

In the 2019 season, there were two fireworks-related fires — one a detached garage and a grass fire near Grant Elementary School. Six incidents were reported in 2018, Buelow said.

Iowa City police said no fireworks-related injuries or fires have been reported so far this year.

What is legal?

According to the Cedar Rapids city ordinance, only novelties like sparklers, caps and snakes are allowed.

Buelow said a violation of the ordinance could result in a citation that requires a court appearance and a fine of up to $625.

Consumer fireworks also are banned in most of Johnson County. Coralville, Hills, Iowa City, North Liberty, Oxford, Shueyville, Swisher, Tiffin, University Heights and rural Johnson County all ban them. Like in Cedar Rapids, novelties like sparklers, snakes are allowed.

enforcement troubles

The Cedar Rapids department has assigned additional officers to enforce fireworks violations, Buelow said, however enforcement can present challenges.

“The biggest difficulty with these types of calls is not being able to locate the source,” said Iowa City Police Department Public Information Officer Derek Frank.

Some fireworks travel from where they were detonated, Frank said, and mush of the time, the individual responsible is gone before police arrive.

Additionally, Frank said, callers are often unable to identify or describe the violators.

Buelow said the police and fire departments have issued several notices reminding residents that fireworks are illegal to discharge in the city.

“Please respect your neighbors, families with young children and pets, veterans with stress disorders, and others sensitive to loud noises by not illegally discharging fireworks in the City limits,” he said.

“Professional pyrotechnic displays are different in that the fireworks professionals have a permit, are licensed and bonded, and there are safety measures in place for the discharge of fireworks,” he added. “There is a safety perimeter that is not possible in a residential neighborhood. Further, there are specific times that they present the fireworks show, rather than discharging fireworks randomly and into the late night or early morning.”

How to notify police

Buelow and Frank encouraged people to call police immediately when they see someone setting off fireworks illegally.

In Cedar Rapids, residents can call the police department’s non-emergency number at 319-286-5491. Being able to provide a specific address and a description of the people are helpful, Buelow said.

In Iowa City, residents can call the Iowa City Police Department’s non-emergency number at 319-356-6800.

“People should call in a timely manner and provide as much information as possible,” Frank said, adding that callers can remain anonymous.

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

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