Pasco’s answer for illegal fireworks? Give people more places to buy legal ones

Keep your eyes on fireworks safety

Every Fourth of July, emergency departments see an influx of injuries caused by fireworks. Mayo Clinic experts say the hands, face and eyes are particularly vulnerable.
Up Next
Every Fourth of July, emergency departments see an influx of injuries caused by fireworks. Mayo Clinic experts say the hands, face and eyes are particularly vulnerable.

People may see more places in Pasco to buy fireworks next Fourth of July as the city looks for ways to stamp out rule breakers.

The city saw a drop in the number of fires during its second holiday with legal fireworks.

But nearly three quarters of the calls police received were for people violating the city’s fireworks laws, police Capt. Jeff Harpster told the city council in a recent report.

Along with a more traditional education campaign, Harpster and other city officials offered an unexpected solution to illegal fireworks — add more places to buy legal ones.

Right now, the city allows three stands during the Fourth of July holiday and one stand for New Year’s Eve.

Officials are worried that people are stopping outside of the city to buy pyrotechnics during their daily commute, and then bringing them home.

“If we can get more fireworks stands throughout the city then possibly they would know, ‘I can go buy my fireworks here in Pasco,’” Harpster said.

The city eased back restrictions on fireworks in 2018 after forbidding them for more than two decades.

Now they allow fountains, smoke devices, sparklers, ground spinners and wheels. Anything that goes up into the air is off limits, and getting caught with them can carry a $250 fine.

While police and firefighters put people on the street looking for fireworks, catching offenders has proven more difficult.

Councilman David Milne said he saw the issue first hand. He was riding with officers on July 4 when they would see the fireworks in the sky, but the area would be deserted by the time officers arrived.

“I was shocked that time after time after time, we’d see the stuff going off and and by the time we get there from two blocks away, there would be nobody,” he said. “We even checked behind cars.”

Fewer fires and more calls

Officers handed out 10 more citations this year, and warned 54 people about fireworks rules.

The easing of the fireworks laws caused a spike in the number of people calling police for the past two years.

In previous years, officers received 115 to 143 calls for police, but in 2018, that number jumped to 221. This year, it reached 252 calls.

And about 90 percent of the calls were about illegal fireworks.

While police and city officials continued education efforts before the July 4th holiday, Harpster said many of the people that officers talked to said they weren’t familiar with the rules.

So officials are recommending that vendors display the city’s rules and hand out fliers. They’re also looking at stepping up the city’s advertising, beginning in late June.

While there were more emergency calls, there actually were fewer fires this year.

After responding to 19 fires in 2018, including two that damaged homes, firefighters were called to just six fires this year — the second year that the ban was lifted.

No more bans

The council members and police didn’t see much point in reinstating the fireworks ban.

When Councilman Pete Serrano pointed out that Harpster didn’t offer it as a choice, the captain said people will still set off fireworks in the city.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Just go back to the ban,’ and that’s the same point that I make.,” he said. “I still support the sale and consumption of legal fireworks in the city.”

Serrano, along with Mayor Matt Watkins, supported the idea of adding more stands, saying it will give people more chances to buy fireworks.

No other council members or members of the public spoke against the idea.

Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.