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Insight from the West Fargo PD: Fireworks ordinance rewritten

West Fargo Ordinance 12-0310 relating to fireworks has been repealed and is replaced with Ordinance 12-0711. The revision is deemed necessary for a number of reasons. Ordinance 12-0310 lacked important detail and was graded as a criminal offense. The new Ordinance 12-0711 provides a definition as to what a firework is. The new ordinance establishes two specific dates and time frames during which a person may discharge a firework. During all other times, the possession and use of fireworks remain illegal. The new ordinance also restricts where fireworks may be discharged in an effort to control the issues created by litter and fire hazards. The final effect of the ordinance change is to move the offense of discharging a firework from a criminal act to a noncriminal offense.

For years the police department has responded to citizen complaints relating to the discharge of fireworks within the city. Between June 26 and July 14 of 2013 officer answered 58 calls for service relating to fireworks. During the same time period in 2012 officer responded to 50 calls. These call numbers do not reflect the incidents where officer contacted individuals directly without a citizen’s complaint being made. Most incidents resulted in a warning being given and the fireworks confiscated in a limited number of incidents.

If an officer elected to charge a person under Ordinance 12-0310, the officer had to prepare a written report. The responsible person would receive a criminal offense complaint and summons and be required to appear in court. The person could have faced up to a $1000 fine. Under the revised ordinance the officer will be able to issue a non-criminal citation to the offender at the time of the incident. The offender can then elect to appear in court to answer the charge or pay the fee and not appear. The fee schedule has yet to be established. The revised ordinance will expedite the process and allow officers to more efficiently address violations.

The department had been approached on a number of occasions with requests to remove or modify the restrictions on the use of fireworks within the city. National and family traditions were cited as reasons fireworks should be allowed. Members of the police department exchanged ideas with local fire officials to determine if a compromise could be made and what safeguards and conditions would need to be established. The first consideration was to minimize danger to the public. A minimum age was established, the size and type of firework was defined and where the firework could be discharged was set. The minimum age is twelve. The size and type of firework is restricted to the merchandise that is available to the general public from a licensed commercial firework vendor. The firework may only be discharged on the person’s own property or at a location where the person has written permission to be. The person remains civilly responsible for any damage to adjoining property caused by the fireworks they discharge.

The next consideration was what dates and times the discharge of fireworks would be allowed. The 2013 North Dakota Legislative Assembly added firework sales during the month of December sparking the consideration of New Year’s Eve. The group came to the consensus that fireworks would be allowed to be discharged on July 4 from 8:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. and on December 31 from 8:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. on January 1. Fireworks remain illegal at any other time of the year. The Fire Chief can suspend the use of fireworks on the dates allowed under conditions of extreme fire danger.

The police department will provide notification and begin a public education program in June to inform the community of the ordinance change. The department will also monitor compliance, enforcement and evaluate public comment during the time frame surrounding the July 4th to determine if further modification of the ordinance will be necessary. Fireworks can be discharged within the community if the firework is used responsibly.

Michael Reitan is the assistant police chief, WFPD