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Public safety committee recommends firework ordinance changes
September 22, 2011 Lisa Betz   
Gering’s Public Safety Committee met Monday night to discuss the findings of the firework committee and make recommendations for the full council’s consideration.

The air was tense throughout the meeting with 21 guests in the gallery. Although the meeting was supposed to last no longer than one hour, the committee deliberations went on past the allotted time, creating mounting frustration among the gallery members eager to be heard.

The committee deliberated at length and determined the recommendations that would be made before the public was allowed to weigh in.

The committee’s recommendations would continue the sale of fireworks for 10 days; however, the discharge of fireworks would now be limited to five days from the previous 10. Discharge hours would be adjusted from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. to noon to 10 p.m., with the Fourth of July continuing to midnight.

Additional language would be added prohibiting the discharge of fireworks into or upon the premises of another person. There was some discussion about how to enforce the new language and it was determined that intent would be the rule of enforcement.

An adjustment to the existing littering code would be expanded as necessary to include the ticketing of residents for littering if their street and sidewalk in front of their residence were not cleared of debris by 10 a.m. on July 5.

The discharge of fireworks would be prohibited on city property, including streets and alleyways. Residents would be required to use their own sidewalks, driveways or yards to discharge fireworks.
Concerns were expressed about the safety of discharging fireworks on yards under trees and concerns were made that not all homeowners have yards.

“At this point, they are going to shoot off fireworks regardless and I think they are going to have to use common sense,” said Gering Fire Chief Jay Templar. “We are going to have to pay close attention to dry vegetation.”

Templar stated that regardless of whether fireworks are discharged in the street or not, there is always potential (for fire) because fireworks can land anyplace. “We’ve had good years and bad years. Our concern has to do more with the amount of wind we have. Heavier wind days are generally where we have heavier incidences of fires.”
Templar refused to offer an opinion on the proposed changes to the fireworks ordinance. “I don’t know what the answer is. We’re always going to have good and bad (years).”

During the meeting there was also discussion regarding limiting the age of firework buyers. Various ages were discussed, but no simple solution could be found that would enable children to show proof of age. It was ultimately decided to strongly encourage vendors not to sell to children younger than 14 unless accompanied by an adult.
Firework vendors would pay an increased permit fee in order to assist Gering with enforcement of the new changes. The permit was $25 in the past and will now cost $200. These additional funds could be used to pay bike patrol officers to enforce the ordinance.

In addition, vendors would prominently post signs at sales booths indicating the allowed dates and times of discharge. It was also determined that illegal fireworks should carry a double fine for illegal discharge.

Once the committee had determined their course of action, six residents were invited to speak, with a seventh being added spontaneously. With only two minutes to speak, each of the speakers used their time before the meeting was brought to a tardy close.
Each of the seven had a unique perspective, but the most notable came from Greg Trautman, Robin Kinney and Lloyd Heine.

Trautman expressed concern that by pushing fireworks out of the streets, a fire hazard was caused creating bigger public concern when fireworks were discharged into the trees. He felt that the debris issue was a moot point.

Kinney stated that it was a responsibility issue. “We need to supervise our kids and give law enforcement the teeth to enforce what’s already there. Otherwise, by legislating this, we run the risk of a totalitarian society.”

Finally, Heine’s remarks capped the meeting with a thought-provoking examination of how we celebrate patriotism: “I am retired Army and a lot of people are coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq. I’ll tell you after I came back, I would have left for 10 days. People go camping during this time. Just please consider these people too.”

“Monday night, there will be an ordinance introduced that changes the discharge days and the hours of discharge as well as authorizing the sale of New Year’s fireworks for three days and one day of discharge,” said Gering City Council member Jill McFarland.

“For the other items, city staff will review them to see if they are already covered in existing code. We told the firework vendors that we would have a definitive answer for them by the end of September so that they can place their orders. We will consider the ordinance at the next meeting to that end.”

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