Wichita is cracking down on a time-honored Fourth of July tradition–the setting off of fireworks.
The city has banned fireworks that shoot sparks higher than six feet or fireworks that shoot flaming balls including Roman candles, bottle rockets and skyrockets.
Wichita city leaders may have forgotten that fireworks on the Fourth is as American as apple pie.
America has celebrated the Fourth of July by staging grand fireworks shows in public squares and lighting smaller displays at home and hundreds of thousands of neighborhoods. But how have fireworks become so closely associated with the Fourth?
We have John Adams to thank. Before the Declaration of Independence was even signed, he envisioned fireworks as a part of the festivities. In a letter to Abigail Adams on July 3, 1776, he wrote that the occasion should be commemorated “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
The very first Independence Day fireworks were set off on July 4, 1777. The Pennsylvania Evening Post wrote that in Philadelphia, “The evening was closed with the ring of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks (which began and concluded with thirteen rockets) on the Commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated.” The paper noted that “Everything was conducted with the greatest order and decorum, and the face of joy and gladness was universal.”
That spirit is a bit dampened in Wichita and many other cities who, in an effort to be cautious, have banned many of the public’s most favorite fireworks. The focus on devoting expensive man-hours to enforcing fireworks bans may be misplaced. Wichita has one of the highest crime rates for cities its size in the entire U.S.
If you plan to shoot off fireworks in Wichita this year, you could face stiff fines.
“This year, we are serious about making sure that people adhere to our policies and write tickets,” Mayor Jeff Longwell said Thursday. “In the past, we’ve had those tickets as high as $2,500. I know firemen that have worked for the city for 30 years and have never written a $2,500 ticket, so we’ve dropped that to $250, because we will write $250 tickets and we will enforce that.”
The difficult part of the Wichita ordinance is that even if they were bought legally in other cities in the area, only fireworks tested and approved by the Wichita Fire Department are allowed.
The city’s residents can check against a comprehensive list of fire department-approved fireworks at wichita.gov/Fire.
To ensure the ordinance is enforced, police and fire officials are planning to go undercover to capture any overly patriotic citizens by patrolling streets in unmarked cars so that people who are setting off illegal fireworks don’t have time to get rid of the evidence.
Officials will issue tickets to property owners and adults if evidence of the use of illegal fireworks is found on their property or if kids under their care are found to have violated the ordinance.