The booms, cracks and sizzles of fireworks have filled the air in Council Bluffs for a few weeks now. But Thursday marked the first day fireworks can be used legally within city limits.
Despite increased sales of consumer fireworks ahead of Independence Day spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, police calls in Council Bluffs have remained steady compared to 2019.
The Iowa Legislature passed a bill legalizing the sale of fireworks — including bottle rockets, firecrackers and roman candles — in 2017. The explosives can be sold from June 1 through July 8 and from Dec. 10 through Jan. 3 in permanent structures or tents. The law allows individual cities and counties to set times and dates for the legal use of fireworks.
In early June, the Council Bluffs City Council unanimously approved the use of fireworks within city limits from 6 to 11 p.m. on July 2 and from noon to 11 p.m. July 3 and July 4 for the 2020 season. Since the 2017 law passed, the council has set dates around the holiday, depending on what day of the week July 4 falls on.
With a number of large-scale professional fireworks shows canceled because of COVID-19 concerns, Council Bluffs fireworks retailers told the Nonpareil on Tuesday that their product has been selling faster than in years past. In contrast, the number of police calls regarding fireworks during the purgatory of legal sales and illegal use are similar to this time in 2019.
From June 1 to July 1, the Council Bluffs Police Department responded to 217 calls related to fireworks, compared to 210 during the same timespan in 2019, according to data provided by the department.
“The big things are the safety factors, making sure that people are following guidelines set by the state for use, the council’s guidelines for when they can be used,” Police Chief Tim Carmody said.
Carmody noted citations can be few and far between on fireworks calls because, “We need to see it, or someone willing to be a witness. Other than that it’s working through the calls as we can, it becomes difficult. It is difficult to enforce.”
Council Bluffs Fire Marshal Alex Ford said there have been few, if any calls to the Fire Department about fireworks in the lead up to the Fourth of July.
“We get a better set of numbers after the season,” Ford said. “It seems things increase when we get into the actual legal shoot dates.”
Claudia Bohn, communications and public relations director for Methodist Health System, said Jennie Edmundson Hospital has treated and released one person for an eye injury this fireworks season.
CHI Health Mercy Hospital reported Thursday they have not treated anyone with fireworks injuries this season.
With fireworks use set to increase over the weekend, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources issued safety tips.
“First, if your family or friends suffer from asthma or respiratory difficulties, it’s important for them to stay upwind, a safe distance from fireworks smoke,” Brian Hutchins, DNR air quality supervisor, said in a release. “The elderly and children are also vulnerable to higher levels of smoke.”
Sensitive people are most likely to have trouble breathing when air is stagnant. With no breeze, fine particles can be trapped near the ground and build to unhealthy levels, the DNR said.
Smoke contains fine particles and gases, which can be hard on the lungs. Fine particles in fireworks’ smoke are produced from black powder used to shoot fireworks skyward along with the metals that produce brilliant colors.
Those unable to avoid areas of dense smoke should limit outdoor activity and contact their health care provider if they experience difficulty breathing.
Second, while fireworks and celebrations go together, remember fireworks can cause serious burns and eye injuries. The Iowa Department of Public Health encouraged families to make sure an adult supervises fireworks and keeps young children from playing with or igniting them. Fireworks should be pointed away from the user and others during ignition, and back up quickly after lighting.
“If fireworks don’t ignite or burn fully, don’t try to relight them or pick them up,” the department said.
The DNR noted that fireworks are prohibited in state parks — only sparklers are allowed.
The agency also reiterated COVID-19 precautions everyone should heed — stay 6-feet away from others, gather in groups of 10 or less, cover your mouth and nose and wash hands or use a hand sanitizer frequently. Stay home if you or someone in your household is sick.
“Finally, play it safe and dispose of your unused fireworks carefully,” the DNR said.
That includes soaking them in water — with complete submergence — overnight and wrapping them in plastic wrap or plastic bags so they don’t dry out.
Pets and fireworks
Kori Nelson with the Midlands Humane Society in Council Bluffs offered advice to keep pets, especially dogs — notorious for getting spooked by fireworks — safe during the holiday.
“Give them good exercise during the day. Tired pets are happy pets. Which in turn usually makes for happy owners,” Nelson said. “Get them worn out so they’re not as stimulated by the loud crashing and banging at night.”
And when the fireworks start, keep them inside. Nelson mentioned putting them in a dark room — with the TV or calming music on if possible — or in a kennel. Owners should be sure to check up on pets occasionally to make sure they’re not trying to escape, which could lead to the pets hurting themselves and/or damaging property. Even if pets aren’t scared of fireworks, Nelson suggested leaving them inside so a dog or cat doesn’t pick up fireworks with their mouth.
Nelson noted Petfinder.com data that shows more pets run off or are lost on July 4 than any other day of the year. To help avoid this, Nelson said owners should have updated photos of the pet, including a front and side image, “so people get an idea of size, color, facial features — that helps. Especially if you’re going to make fliers.”
She also said owners should have updated tags on pet collars. And microchipping is a great way to find a lost pet — just make sure owner contact information is up-to-date.
If residents do find their dog or cat is missing, Nelson said there are “lost pet” Facebook pages in the area. Additionally, call Midlands at 712-396-2270. The facility has a holding area where owners can come in and claim their pet.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Nelson said. “Keep them in, keep safe.”
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