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Knowing when and where to enjoy fireworks can make a safe Independence Day

Police and fire personnel ready for their busiest weekend of the year

Posted: July 2, 2011 - 10:52pm

Last Fourth of July weekend a Douglas party-goer fired Roman candle at a photographer standing on a public beach.

The individual was photographed running at the photographer, streaming fireworks flashing by the photographers head multiple times.

That was potentially disorderly conduct, assault and criminal mischief and also illegal discharge of fireworks within 250 feet of a residential area. No charges were filed.

“We look at the firework as though it was any other item,” Juneau Police Department Sgt. Dave Campbell said. “Throwing, or shooting, any object at somebody else if it has the potential to cause risk of damage or injury could be an assault, it could be disorderly conduct, or reckless endangerment. Even though the possession or use of them may be covered in the uniform fire code, how they are used does apply to some of the criminal statues. Unless it is shot at somebody, aimed at somebody or in a manner that causes a risk or danger to person or property, we will address it more along the lines of reckless endangerment, or disorderly conduct or something along those lines.”

Capital City Fire and Rescue Fire Chief Rich Etheridge said that they would be working with the JPD and the law department within the year to figure out what suits the community best in terms of a fireworks ordinance and spin it to the assembly to take a look at.

“One of the big things is to make sure people are using them legally,” Etheridge said. “Because there are quite a few areas where they can’t be used in Juneau.”

According to Etheridge fireworks are illegal anywhere on U.S. Forest Service property, such as Eagle Beach and the Mendenhall Glacier area or any Tongass National Forest land, and within 250 feet of residential neighborhoods.

It is illegal to buy or sell fireworks in Juneau, however, they can be brought into Juneau and in a citizen’s possession as long as the transportation method follows the agency of transport’s protocols. For instance, fireworks cannot be carried on an Alaska Airlines jet and cannot be concealed on the state ferries. Officials have to be informed of fireworks transportation. There is currently an ordinance up for vote in front of the city on July 11 that will make fireworks illegal in Juneau.

“This year we are going to start looking at firework ordinances and how to make them better because they are difficult to enforce,” Etheridge said. “Every firecracker and stuff like that is illegal. The cops could spend the entire weekend just chasing fireworks complaints.”

While JPD will issue a violation resulting in a trip to court for fireworks misconduct, federal fines are more severe.

Campbell said the state has broken fireworks ordinances into two categories: saleable and dangerous. Forbidden are fireworks of homemade origins, and the seal bomb or M-80 range.

Store-bought fireworks are typically okay Campbell stated, but the police will address issues if fireworks are used in a way that present a harm or a danger to others.

“If someone lights a firecracker and throws it at a person we will address that issue,” Campbell said. “We don’t have a city ordinance that deals specifically with fireworks. We rely on the state ordinance which breaks it down to saleable and dangerous, and the prohibition on them is on dangerous fireworks, or dangerous acts.”

Campbell stated the JPD would have plenty to watch for on the weekend.

“Historically the Fourth of July weekend has been the business weekend for us as far as calls for service,” Campbell said. “The third and the Fourth of July are considered blackout dates as far as taking vacation time. If you are a police officer you are working those days. We have a lot of people working over the course of the weekend so we can focus on multiple issues.”

Campbell stated those issues included driving while intoxicated or under the influence, disorderly conduct and things along that line.

“People need to be smart,” Campbell said. “Our goal is to have a very strong presence so if something happens we can respond quickly to it before it escalates and causes problems elsewhere.”

The parade route will also be strictly enforced and streets used in the parade are closed to vehicular traffic starting at approximately 10:30 a.m. Streets listed will be posted “No Parking.” Any vehicles parked on the parade route will be impounded and unavailable until Tuesday July 5. Impounding of vehicles will begin at 8:30 a.m. the morning of July 4.

The Juneau 4th of July parade begins at 11 a.m. at the Department of Labor building on West 8th Street and Egan Drive, moves inbound on Egan via the outbound lanes to Main Street, turns left up Main Street, right onto Front Street and continues on against the normal flow of traffic until turning right onto Franklin Street and traveling against the normal flow of traffic to the traffic circle. The parade will then head outbound on Egan Drive via the inbound lanes to West 8th.

“The people that are in the parade are not supposed to be throwing candy,” Campbell said. “Inevitably it happens anyway but what participants are being told is to hand candy or whatever they are distributing out. We want to make sure that when people are retrieving things they do it in a safe manner.”

Campbell cited a recent parade in Anchorage where an observer was killed at the start of the parade.

“We are really concerned about kids running into the street to try and get something,” Campbell said. “Even though it is a slow-moving motor vehicle the last thing we want to do is mar our celebration with a tragedy.”

The Coast Guard, Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Wildlife Troopers and Alaska Marine Law Enforcement Officials will also be providing a presence over the holiday. All three teams of the Alaska Bureau of Highway Patrol will be on the roads statewide.

Extra vigilant efforts will be enforced for motorist demonstrating poor driving behaviors such as speeding, passing in no passing zones, erratic driving, and not buckling up.

If you are enjoying the waterways on any watercraft make sure everyone under the age of 13 is wearing a life jacket and enough life jackets are available for each individual on board.

“The intent is making sure everybody has a wonderful and safe holiday weekend,” Fairbanks Wildlife Trooper Lt. Lantz Dahlke said.

Both Campbell and Etheridge intend to have a grand time, as both are members of the Grand Marshal float.

“It is kind of exciting,” Etheridge said. “It has been a few years that I have been down to the parade because I usually end up working the night of the third and usually sleep during the parade.”

Added Campbell, “I am thrilled. It is an honor, not an individual honor but an honor the whole department should be proud of. And I can’t wait to see the fireworks.”

Alaska State Fire Marshal David Tyler said, “The safest way to enjoy fireworks is by attending a public fireworks display. If you plan to shoot your own fireworks make sure they are legal to use in your area and pay particular attention to safety tips to help reduce the chances of a destructive fire and/or injury.

A Fire and Life Safety Public Information Office release listed these safety measures:

Only purchase fireworks from a licensed dealer of certified fireworks; Avoid buying fireworks in brown paper packaging as this is often a sign they were made for professional shows and are dangerous; Never allow young children to play with fireworks; Adults should supervise fireworks. Sparklers have caused more injury to children under five than any other type and burn hot enough to melt metals; Keep a safe distance after lighting a firework; Never re-light or pick up non-functional (undetonated) fireworks, douse and soak them with water and throw away; Never point or throw fireworks at another person; Keep a bucket of water or garden hose handy; Light one item at a time only; Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers; Avoid the combination of alcohol, drugs and fireworks.

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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