Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton holds up a map charting police responses to firework calls during a joint entity meeting in the county Health and Human Services Building on Monday. Throgmorton said the city had spent more than 100 hours responding to 453 fireworks calls as of July 8. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

Fireworks law sets off some fireworks


Johnson County, City of Iowa City, and state officials reflect on the challenges of the state law allowing for the sale of fireworks and determine clearer signage about the law is needed to encourage safe, lawful use.

By Marissa Payne and Morgan Louvar

Although Iowans have put away their red, white, and blue after celebrating the Fourth of July, the firework-safety debate remains an explosive topic.

As of July 8, Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton said, the city of Iowa City had spent more than 100 hours responding to 453 calls for service regarding incidents involving fireworks. This was a jump compared with the 39 calls police responded to in the same time period in 2016, Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said.

The hike in calls comes after the Legislature’s decision earlier this year to pass Senate File 489, which allowed for the sale and purchase of fireworks in the state.

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Throgmorton and other community members discussed the matter and the resulting challenges at a joint entities meeting among city officials, the county Board of Supervisors, and community members on July 17 at the Johnson County Health and Human Services Building, 855 S. Dubuque St.

“We had something explode in our faces a couple weeks ago,” Throgmorton said. “It wasn’t tossed by us; it was tossed by the state Legislature.”

Pulkrabek noted a situation in Shueyville in which a firework tipped over as it was about to discharge as a woman holding her child stood nearby, injuring both of them. Charges were filed against the owner of the residence because of a lack of a permit, he said.

According to documents from the supervisors’ website, fireworks permits require those who wish to set off fireworks to apply in writing two weeks in advance of the time they wish to set off the fireworks, including details of the training they have undergone, the drop zone, and the distance between spectators and the buildings nearby, among other information.

Those who violate the ordinance, which requires obtaining a permit to set off fireworks, will be charged with a simple misdemeanor and be fined.

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County Supervisor Mike Carberry said the change to state law likely led to confusion and resulted in people thinking they could not only buy fireworks but set them off as well. There could have been clearer signage to make people aware it is illegal to discharge fireworks in Iowa City, he said.

“If we’re going to allow the sales of them within the cities and within these tent structures … maybe we could require some better information or signage,” he said.

Throgmorton agreed there needed to be clearer signage to let residents know it is against city ordinance to shoot off fireworks and suggested possibly regulating the location at which fireworks sales could be made.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said the fireworks legislation and resulting safety challenges are a bipartisan issue, but the bill passed despite there being what he said was a fairly strong set of people who opposed it. Ultimately, he noted, there was a ton of support for it.

“Whether or not enough urban legislators are going to have had enough complaints from both parties to do any tinkering with this, I think, remains to be seen,” he said. “I’m not optimistic that there will be any substantive changes. It’s a goofy law that allows the sale of these things in communities, but you can’t set them off.”

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