City officials have concerns that things are likely to get loud, and perhaps a bit dangerous, as local residents observe Fourth of July during the COVID-19 pandemic.
One reason is that two of Bartholomew County’s most popular fireworks displays have been canceled or postponed due to COVID-19 health concerns, Columbus Fire Chief Andy Lay said.
The 31st annual QMIX Fireworks display has been rescheduled for the Labor Day weekend, while Hope’s Old Fashioned Independence Day festivities has been canceled. Those two developments have a number of local officials, including Lay, worrying about a noticeable increase in people staging their own elaborate displays.
This year’s reduction in professional displays is just one concern for public safety officials. Another is that some residents frustrated by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions may want to ‘bust loose’ with elaborate fireworks, especially if they have been drinking alcoholic beverages.
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“Yes, we are concerned that people could go overboard,” Lay said. “Alcohol and fireworks do not go together.”
In addition to possible injury, city officials are also concerned about fireworks in neighborhoods causing problems for those who might have anxiety when nearby neighbors start sending fireworks into the air with loud booms.
It’s easy to forget that unexpected fireworks can cause excessive stress for veterans – especially those suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome, Columbus Police spokesman Lt. Matt Harris said.
If certain veterans are caught off guard, loud booms can trigger horrible memories and terrifying flashbacks, according to the U.S.Marine Corps Community Service website.
Another concern this year in south central Indiana is the weather. The hot and dry conditions that prevailed in late spring increases the chances of fireworks igniting grass or field fires, according to firefighters.
Firefighters are also concerned about the risk of serious injury among those who purchase fireworks and set them off in neighborhoods.
Nationally, emergency rooms treat an estimated 9,100 non-occupational fireworks related injuries annually, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Burns account for 44 percent of the fireworks injuries seen in the month around July 4, the federal agency states. Half of these injuries are to extremities, particularly the hand, finger or leg. One-third were to the eye or other parts of the head, the website states. Children ages 10 to 14 have the highest rate of fireworks injury, with more than one-third of the victims of fireworks injuries in this period under age 15, according to the commission.
In recent years, only a small amount of fireworks-related damages and injuries have been reported in Columbus during the Independence Day holiday, Lay said.
“But we just don’t know what to expect this year,” the fire chief added.
Complaints were already being made about exploding fireworks at odd hours in recent days, even though Columbus residents cannot legally start igniting them until Monday, Harris said.
Unlike rural areas, the density of the community significantly increases the odds of accidental damage and injuries, Harris said.
In terms of damage and injuries, fireworks started an estimated 19,500 fires nationally in 2018, including 1,900 structure fires, 500 vehicle fires, and 17,100 outside and other fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) website. The organization estimates fireworks cause about $105 million in direct property damage every year.
And if you damage your own property, don’t assume it will be covered by insurance. The Indiana Department of Insurance is warning that accidental damage caused by banned fireworks may not be covered by homeowners or renter insurance policies.
Many insurance policies contain provisions disclaiming coverage for illegal acts committed by the insured. However, if you experience property damage due to another person’s use of fireworks, you should be able to claim benefits under your insurance policy, the department states.
When all these factors are combined, it’s understandable why the Columbus Fire Department has joined with the NFPA in urging all residents to refrain from using consumer fireworks this year.
“Fireworks are simply too dangerous and unpredictable to be used safely by consumers,” NFPA vice-president Lorraine Carli said. “Even sparklers, which are often considered harmless enough for children, burn as hot as 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit and can cause third-degree burns.”
Know the law
Despite the warnings and circumstances, “we know there’s going to be an uptick in folks shooting off their own fireworks,” Lay said. So the fire chief is urging all residents who still insist on creating their own displays to obey state and local laws and follow safety tips.
For example, a local ordinance in Columbus is stricter than state laws concerning what dates and times fireworks can be used. In Columbus, they can be legally set off from Monday through July 9, from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m. Hours on Independence Day are 10 a.m. through midnight, the ordinance states.
And if you set them off in public parks, vacant lots or in public streets, you are breaking state law, Columbus Fire Department spokesman Capt. Mike Wilson said. The use of consumer fireworks is limited to personal property, the property of someone who has approved the use of fireworks or a location set up specifically for the use of consumer fireworks, he said.
Lay is also asking those with pets, especially dogs, to remember that pets are often frightened by loud noises such as fireworks.
Every year at this time, the Columbus police receive several calls and emails about frightened pets that run off due to fireworks being set off nearby, Harris said.
“If fireworks are being used near your home, don’t allow your pets outside,” Lay said. “Put the dog or cat in a safe room, and make sure the pet is wearing an ID tag in case the animal runs off in fear.”
The following five penalties regarding fireworks have been established by Indiana statutes:
- Anyone under the age of 18 using fireworks when an adult is not present is subject to a Class C misdemeanor and may face a maximum fine of $500 per citation.
- Illegal use of fireworks at an unapproved location is subject to a maximum fine of $500 per citation. Multiple citations in a five-year period results in a Class C misdemeanor and is subject to a $500 fine and 60 days in jail.
- Damaging someone else’s property with fireworks is a Class A misdemeanor and can result in a $10,000 maximum fine and up to one year in prison.
- Causing personal injury to someone else with fireworks is a Class D felony and may result in a $10,000 maximum fine and six months to three years in prison.
- A fatal fireworks accident is considered a Class C felony and may result in a $10,000 maximum fine and two to eight years in prison.
Report the illegal use of fireworks to the non-emergency line for the E-911 center at 812-379-1689.
Source: Indiana Department of Homeland Security website
Eight tips for fireworks
- Never let children handle, play with or light any fireworks without adult supervision.
- Store fireworks in a cool, dry place.
- Use a clear, open area and keep the audience a safe distance from the shooting site.
- Use extreme caution when lighting fireworks in the wind and keep spectators in a place where the wind is blowing smoke and debris away from them.
- Never smoke or consume alcohol when lighting fireworks.
- Never attempt to make or alter any fireworks.
- Keep a bucket of water or hose nearby.
- Use safety glasses and only light one firework at a time.
Source: Indiana Department of Homeland Security and the Indiana Fire Marshal’s Office
Local fireworks ordinance
Consumer fireworks may only be used in the city of Columbus’ corporate limits during the days and times listed below:
- Between the hours of 5 p.m. and two hours after sunset on June 29 through July 3, and July 5 through July 9. However, regardless of what time sunset occurs, not later than 11 p.m.
- Between 10 a.m. and midnight on July 4 and December 31.
- In the event that the hours of use for consumer fireworks established by Indiana code conflict with this ordinance, the state statute shall control.
City of Columbus: Ordinance No. 2, 2019
8.12.190 Consumer Fireworks
Where to watch public fireworks
Not all professional fireworks displays have been canceled.
- Ceraland Park, 3989 S. County Road 525E, has tentatively scheduled professional fireworks after 10 p.m. on July 4. However, that is subject to change if new COVID-19 restrictions are announced by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb between now and July 4.
- In Jackson County, the Seymour Parks and Recreation Department has confirmed they still plan to present a professional fireworks display at 10 p.m. on July 4 at the Freeman Field Recreational Complex, 2476 N. State Road 11.
- And in Jennings County, fireworks are planned at 10 p.m. July 4 at the Jennings County Fairgrounds, which will open at 4 p.m. that day. There will be no fee to attend, but there will be a free-will donation taken for parking. The money collected for parking will be donated to the Jennings County School Corp. People are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets and observe social distancing. There will be food trucks and vendors and live music during the event. The band Sounds of Summer will play at 8 p.m. followed by the fireworks at about 10 p.m.