Playing with fire

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A week after the Fourth of July, it’s debatable whether regulatory changes had a lot of impact on the proliferation of hazardous fireworks across Frankfort and Franklin County. Complaints to the fire department were down in the city, which tightened its rules, and up a bit in the county, which made no changes.

Pivotal legislation was approved last year when state lawmakers decided to clear a path for consumer sales and use of powerful firecrackers and rockets, previously banned. After a particularly raucous Fourth in 2011, the city rolled back its ordinance to reflect the previous state standard which limited legal fireworks to sparklers and such.

Whatever the law says, the biggest problem is enforcing it. “It’s hard to be the fireworks police,” city Fire Chief Wallace Possich told State Journal reporter Lauren Hallow.

Long before state legislators opened the floodgates, illegal explosive devices showed up every year in both the city and the county. Those who really wanted the potent stuff could always buy it in Indiana or Tennessee. Now it’s somewhat more convenient. The fireworks stands prohibited this year in Frankfort could easily be found just outside the city limits. If the county decides next year to get back in step with the city, it’ll still be possible to buy the prohibited devices in other counties. The best legislative solution is for lawmakers to renew the ban on hazardous products statewide.

The period for which city and county officials kept track of fireworks complaints ran from July 1-5 this year, but some individuals were still launching private aerial displays into the weekend after the holiday, ignoring not only the law against igniting explosives within 200 feet of people or buildings but also the common sense dictate that you don’t light incendiary devices in the midst of a drought when one spark could start a grass fire and endanger someone’s home. This is just insane, and local lawmakers and enforcers need to find a way to make it stop.

As it happened, we dodged the bullet again this year. Possich said three fires in the city were blamed on fireworks. County Chief Gary Watts said his department had none.

Nearby Lexington banned all sales of personal fireworks because of the dry weather, and the Herald-Leader reported the Urban County Council is considering a total ban on fireworks in Fayette County after many disregarded the rules and caused fires, including two that damaged homes. The paper said around 25 citations were issued from Wednesday through Friday.

Local authorities contend fireworks laws are hard to enforce because they have to witness the violations in order to bring charges. This is beginning to come across as something of a cop-out. Police have traditionally cracked down on traffic violators during peak travel periods and may step up patrols during Halloween, when vandalism tends to run rampant. Careless drivers and pranksters still get away with plenty but expanded police presence in neighborhoods and elsewhere could make them think twice about taking chances. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask that city and state police and sheriff’s deputies watch more closely for illegal fireworks around the holiday when they are most apt to be set off. A few more citations and arrests could help deter additional misbehavior.

Before another July 4 rolls around, city and county officials should get together and see if they can come up with a joint response to this recurrent annoyance and hazard before some tragedy galvanizes them into action whether they really want to deal with the situation or not.

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