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Zero cited for illegal fireworks use

Police say more critical calls kept them from enforcement

The number of fireworks-related complaints on the Fourth of July dropped by about half this year, but the number of citations written by Sandy police officers stayed the same as it has for the last decade or so - zero - despite a mandate from the city council to crack down on illegal fireworks use.

Between 12:01 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, July 4, the Sandy Police Department received 27 calls for service - a number apparently higher than the average Tuesday. Three of those calls, Skelton said, were fireworks-related, down from six last year.

During the holiday weekend - July 1 to July 5 - the department had 12 calls about illegal fireworks use, which is close to its average of about 15 police calls every day.

Several weeks before Independence Day, Sandy Police indicated that it would crack down on unlawful fireworks use by writing citations - which would number in the hundreds of dollars and could lead to jail time. The 'crackdown' was prompted by city councilors who had received complaints from citizens in 2005.

On two separate occasions this holiday weekend, officers confiscated illegal fireworks without incident. They destroyed the devices by soaking them in water instead of burning them. No citations were written.

'Typically we haven't issued any,' Skelton said, noting that it's been 10 to 12 years since one has been written. 'We try to be lenient with people because we realize it's a celebration.

'Even though a lot of illegal fireworks were going on,' he continued, 'not a lot of them are calling in. For the bulk of the community, it's apparently not a big deal; it's not disrupting them.'

The reason Sandy officers didn't get out and stop the majority of the illegal fireworks use in the city is simply, manpower.

'I think if (the police) didn't have their hands so tied up with traffic control they probably could have issued a few tickets,' said City Manager Scott Lazenby. 'They were spread pretty thin.'

Skelton said other, higher priority calls also kept law enforcers from writing citations. 'We had everything we normally do plus the fireworks. Countywide, fireworks are a low priority unless people are doing it in a way that endangers people.'

Holiday weekend calls included illegal fireworks complaints, fire alarms, public assists, an incomplete 9-1-1 call, an incident of indecent exposure, a traffic accident and a suicide attempt.

There was only one arrest for the weekend - a hit-and-run. 'I've seen much worse Fourths,' Skelton said. 'This year feels about normal.'

Sandy Fire District Spokesperson Alice Lasher said fireworks caused no 'major' fires during holiday weekend.

Just before 11 p.m. on Sunday, July 2, firefighters were dispatched to the 35400 block of Highway 211 to put out a tree fire that started after citizens placed their used fireworks beneath a tree with low-hanging branches.

'One of the fireworks was still warm enough to re-ignite and put part of the tree on fire,' Lasher said. The blaze burned three trees and a fence before firefighters extinguished it.

On July 4, a juvenile reportedly threw a legal 'spinner' firework cross Bluff Road into the grass near the school bus barn. The fire briefly threatened a Dodge Durango before an officer stamped it out.

'The Fourth of July is usually not a huge fire issue for us,' noted Lasher, 'it's the month leading up to the Fourth and afterward. Kids have leftover fireworks and no leftover supervision. It's a pretty big issue through October.'

Rather, 'The peripheral activities of the Fourth cause problems,' Lasher said - 'the drinking and driving, party atmosphere. That was an issue.' The Sandy area saw four visits from LifeFlight during the holiday weekend (Saturday to Tuesday).

But local fire officials still believe more can be done to curb illegal fireworks. By next Fourth of July Sandy Fire District will begin issuing citations to offenders.

'There's an awful lot of opportunity to enforce (fireworks laws),' Lasher said. 'This is a fire issue, so it's something the fire service has to look at and take on. The goal is to increase the public safety.'

Lasher said the district has always been able to issue fireworks citations under state law, however it has historically stayed away from using that authority.

'Enforcement of fireworks-related issues is always kind of one of those murky waters for the fire district,' Lasher said. 'Enforcement of law is typically a law-enforcement responsibility.' She noted that the decision to issue citations next year 'is certainly not a reflection on law enforcement.'

Skelton says he is skeptical that the fireworks problem can ever be resolved. 'There's no way you can totally eradicate illegal fireworks,' he said. 'You compare it to drugs. If you have an officer on every street corner, maybe you'll be able to get rid of them. What we're trying to do is educate people and deal with individual problem cases in a reasonable manner, and hopefully get compliance.'

Lasher said that while the community is generally pretty responsible when it comes to fire and fireworks safety, 'It doesn't mean that people should let their guards down.'

She said parents need to continue to monitor their children's fireworks use, if for no other reason than the fact that parents are legally responsible for anything their son or daughter does with fireworks.