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City officials want to work with county on persistent fireworks problems affecting vets, pets

BUCKHANNON – For the health, safety and sanity of U.S. military veterans and family pets, an Upshur County woman has asked the City of Buckhannon to consider banning the use of consumer fireworks inside city limits entirely.

Currently, fireworks are prohibited except for certain hours of the day on Independence Day, New Year’s Eve and some public celebrations.

Jan Craig, who visited Upshur County Commission the prior week, hinted the city should look into outlawing the sale of fireworks, a course of action she said the City of Weston is considering.

“I’m here to ask the City Council to stop the fireworks for our vets and our pets,” Craig said, indicating she didn’t believe the current ordinance goes far enough.

Currently, city ordinance 418 prohibits the discharge of individual consumer fireworks and ‘sparkling devices’ inside city limits with the following exceptions:

  • Between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. July 4
  • Between 11 a.m. on Dec. 31 and 12:30 p.m. Jan. 1
  • Between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. “on the Saturdays preceding and following Independence Day, if Independence Day does not fall on a Saturday in a given year,” and
  • at other times and dates set by council via a resolution or “in the event of a spontaneous public celebration where prior council approval isn’t possible

(The penalty for violating the ordinance is a fine ranging from $100 to $500, depending on whether the occurrence is a first, second, third or subsequent offense.)

Craig said many of her family members are war veterans, and cited statistics saying one in five of approximately 2.5 million vets who served in the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

“That doesn’t take into account the Korean veterans and all other veterans,” Craig said. “We have, in West Virginia, one of the highest per capita (rates) of veterans. Each firework that is released is like a mortar round for them.”

Craig said fireworks being shot off at random times of day are especially traumatic because of their sporadic, unplanned nature. That occurrence differs from a planned city-sponsored fireworks display that has been widely publicized, she said.

“When it’s the Fourth of July celebration, and it’s publicized and we all know to expect the fireworks, that’s one thing, but when it’s 11 p.m. at night, and fireworks are going off at random times, it’s an attack,” Craig said.

There’s a number of cases in which unexpected fireworks have caused veterans to harm themselves or other people, she added. Craig also shared statistics that showed an uptick in the percentage of injuries resulting from individuals setting off fireworks and explained that fireworks are a threat to pets because they’re loud and unpredictable, often causing animals to feel trapped and run away from their homes.

“Weston has outlawed fireworks entirely other than sparklers,” Craig told council. “They are looking at an ordinance, according to their chief of police, to have them not be sold there because they feel that creates a double standard where you can buy them in Weston but not set them off there.”

Craig said Elkins, too, has placed an all-encompassing prohibition on setting off consumer fireworks.

“I know we have an ordinance, but let’s be honest, guys – they start the day the (fireworks) tents go up, and they end the day the tents go down,” she said. “The ordinance isn’t followed. For the pittance of economic gain we get from these, why are we putting our people and our animals through this? Why are we putting our vets and our pets through this?”

Councilman David Thomas, who participated in Thursday’s meeting via teleconference, said he’d like to collaborate with the Upshur County Commission to address the issue.

“Many of the fireworks that we hear are not in the city limits,” Thomas said.

Councilman Mary Albaugh said city police have been responding to complaints about fireworks, noting she had called one in just the prior evening.

Craig said she knew council couldn’t take any action that would impact public behavior in 2020 but had come to Thursday’s meeting to ask council to plan for 2021.

Mayor Robbie Skinner said council would consider Craig’s request.

“We hear you,” he said. “Thank you for coming to the meeting tonight and thank you for going to county commission. Maybe we can work with them as well on a potential solution because we are a city of 2.5 square miles, and it really would be beneficial for us to have a unified front to help folks because most of the county’s population lives right around Buckhannon. So, what happens in Buckhannon affects a lot more people that just those who live in Buckhannon.”

City recorder Randy Sanders suggested Craig ask to be placed on city council’s agenda in several months to “check on us” and see how the city’s research into the problem is progressing.

“I appreciate your comment, and I will be back,” Craig replied.

Read the city’s full ordinance here.

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