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Celebrate Fourth safely & sanely
Art deWerk

The national celebration that is Independence Day is next week. July 4 falls on a Thursday this year, and like the national holidays of other countries, it symbolizes a very important moment in this country's history. It symbolizes the occasion when we separated from the British empire in 1776 and became a nation of our own. Most people know about this history of ours, but it is easy to focus on the holiday aspect of the occasion and lose sight of the importance, and true meaning behind it.

The history lesson aside, I am writing about Independence Day because, along with all the legitimate and festive activities that accompany that date, it is also a day when there are fires, accidents with mishandled fireworks, firearms routinely discharged in the city limits, DUIs, as well as many other dangerous or illegal activities. The Fourth of July keeps police, fire, dispatch, and ambulance personnel extremely busy. Public safety personnel are hoping for a Fourth of July that is free of injuries, deaths, fires, arrests and damaged property, but we know that there will be safety challenges nevertheless.

Many people want to have block parties for social and partying purposes on this holiday. By themselves, block parties are not a problem, but we are seeing a yearly increase of these events where the hosts have failed to obtain a permit from the city. You might ask why a permit is required, and it is a fair question. Specifically, some block parties end up with partial or full blocking of the roadway, resulting in some problems. To be clear, there are any number of streets in each city that simply cannot be closed owing to traffic volume and the need for emergency vehicle access. Permits are more likely to be issued when the block party takes place in cul-de-sacs or on streets with a low volume of traffic. The permits are issued not for the block party per se, but for the street closure. These closure permits are also required to ensure that the neighbors are supportive of the idea, that amplified music is regulated to the extent that it cannot become an excessive burden on those who are not included in the party, and that other neighborhoods are not adversely affected.

Residents also need to keep in mind that failure to obtain street closure permits can impede the response of emergency vehicles. Police, fire and ambulance personnel need to know in advance of any detours or street blockages so they can respond as quickly, efficiently, and safely as possible to emergencies. Another important aspect of this is that many block parties feature out-of-town visitors, which increases demands on fire and police personnel. It helps our agencies to have an idea of how many block parties are taking place so we can plan staffing needs for the police and fire departments accordingly.

There is much that can be emphasized about Fourth of July safety. The most obvious is that only "safe and sane" fireworks are permitted in most city limits. Some cities (with more likely to follow suit) have an outright ban on fireworks because of the problems they are known to cause when handled carelessly or mishandled altogether. We ask that all fireworks activities be done with fire and life safety in mind. We can expect increased potential for fires owing to vegetation growth as a result of the late season rains. Keep a water supply immediately available in the event a fire starts. It is also appropriate to clean up all fireworks messes after the celebration is complete. Bottle rockets, exploding devices, and the like are prohibited by law. The mere possession of these items, let alone setting them off, is a law violation that will be strictly enforced.

We also have the issue of people discharging firearms into the air or ground for the noise effects or whatever other foolish reasons. Discharging a firearm in the city is strictly prohibited, and frankly, quite stupid. The dangers of doing so, while obvious, seem to be of no concern or are forgotten by the fools who discharge rifles, handguns or shotguns into the air or ground. Stray and ricocheting bullets kill people and damage buildings and cars every year throughout the country. The police can tell the difference between the sound of a firearm or an exploding firework (which is illegal also), and our efforts to track down the sources of these discharges will be rigorous. The police will confiscate the firearms from people who illegally discharge them and violators will be booked into jail.

Fourth of July safety amounts to common sense practices, but when drugs or alcohol become part of the festivities, common sense may not be so common with devastating results. We are simply urging everyone to be safe, have fun and not get blown up, burned or do anything else harmful, dangerous or illegal. I wish that everyone has a great time while enjoying the holiday in celebration of the birth of this nation and encourage you to save our 24 hour dispatch number (538-5712) in your phone to report any dangerous and illegal activities in your neighborhood.