Cedar Rapids bans fireworks

A stand selling fireworks outside the Iowa City Walmart shown on Friday, June 30. — photo by Zak Neumann

Once was enough when it comes to fireworks in Cedar Rapids it seems. The Cedar Rapids City Council voted on Tuesday to ban the use of consumer fireworks within city limits. Last week, the council voted to restrict the sale of consumer fireworks to areas zoned for industrial use.

In May, Gov. Terry Branstad signed into law a bill legalizing the sale of fireworks designed for use by the general public from June 1 to July 8, and December 10 to January 3. The bill allowed municipalities to restrict or ban the use of fireworks, but on May 26, the Cedar Rapids City Council voted 5-2 to allow their use.

There has been a strong, vocal public pushback in Cedar Rapids on fireworks. Responding to citizen complaints, the council voted 6-1 in August to instruct city staff to draft regulations restricting the sale of consumer fireworks and banning their use. Mayor Ron Corbett was the lone vote in opposition.

Little Village
contacted Cedar Rapids Public Safety Communications Coordinator Greg Buelow for information about firework-related incidents reported by the Cedar Rapids Police Department (CRPD) and the city’s fire department during the legal fireworks use period earlier this year.

“There were 30,322 total calls to the dispatch center from June 1 through July 8, 2016. There were 33,247 total calls to the dispatch center from June 1 through July 8, 2017,” Buelow told Little Village via email. “The increase of 3,000 calls to the dispatch center from 2016 to 2017 is largely due to fireworks.”

Fireworks-related complaints resulted in officers being dispatched 576 times between June 1 and July 8. The CRPD received 33 calls about shootings during that period, which were most likely people hearing fireworks go off. There were also two shooting incidents in which some citizens later said they didn’t call the police because they thought the noise was fireworks.

“Beside noise complaints, there were issues with air quality and presence of perchlorate in the soil [two soil samples taken on July 5, near a water well by the Ellis Boat Harbor and Ellis Park, where fireworks were frequently detonated, showed elevated levels of percolate, a chemical in fireworks that can cause thyroid problems], and concerns about litter (debris left in public parks and in neighborhoods — often in other people’s yards that weren’t even shooting off fireworks),” Buelow said.

Then there were the fires.

The Cedar Rapids Fire Department responded to a total of 13 incidents, including three building fires, according to Buelow. The worst of the building fires caused $140,000 in damage. The other two cause $1,500 and $3,500 in damage.

Cedar Rapids hospitals reported treating 21 patients with injuries related to fireworks. Four patients had injuries serious enough to require transportation by ambulance.

Prior to this year, the sale and use of most consumer fireworks had been banned in Iowa since 1938. The law enacting a statewide ban was passed largely in response to a 1931 fire in that destroyed most of downtown Spencer, Iowa. Ironically, the Spencer fire is believed to have been started by a sparkler, one of the few types of fireworks legally available in the state before the law was changed in May.