Residents cautioned to celebrate Independence Day safely; Buckhannon’s police chief breaks down the city’s ordinance regulating fireworks

BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon’s first responders are urging the community to celebrate the Fourth of July safely this weekend.

Independence Day inevitably ushers in the use of fireworks, sparklers, and other smaller-scale pyrotechnic devices, and Firefighter First Class John Brugnoli encouraged residents to celebrate the USA’s birthday responsibly.

“Fireworks are extremely dangerous for people who are not trained to use them, and a lot of times, fireworks and alcohol go hand-in-hand with accidents,” said Brugnoli, a career firefighter with the Buckhannon Fire Department. “You never know where they’re going to end up, and that’s the case with anything that goes in the air. That makes it a very large issue – especially this time of year when it is usually 90 degrees outside and everything starts getting dry, which can cause brush fires.”

Fireworks and firecrackers used improperly may also cause injury.

“We have had instances in the past of people setting fireworks off and hitting vehicles, hitting people,” Brugnoli said, “and there are a lot of stories out there of people letting mortars off, and the tubes tip over and it bounces off the ground and they start exploding, and those things are like a bomb going off.”

Brugnoli recommended using the correct equipment and keeping people and animals at a safe distance.

“Make sure you know that [the people who setting off fireworks] are using the proper equipment,” he advised. “Don’t use a piece of cardboard that’s shoved down into the ground. Know what you’re using, know what you’re setting off, know what it’s going to do, and if it’s going to go 100 feet and go off, or if it’s going to go 200 feet and go off, keep all the spectators back.”

On the law enforcement side of public safety, Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory reminded city residents that within city limits, fireworks are only permitted between the hours of 11 a.m. and 11p.m. on July 4, Independence Day; between 11 a.m. on Dec. 31 and 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 1; and 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. (In other words, since the Fourth of July falls on a Sunday this year, that means fireworks may be set off between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. Saturday, July 3 and between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. Saturday, July 10.)

Gregory explained the reasoning behind Ordinance 418, which regulates the use of fireworks in city limits.

“There are a couple of primary reasons, and one of which is because houses are so closely grouped together in the city that if fireworks were allowed to happen all throughout the year beyond the Fourth, it would potentially be a noise issue and a disturbance issue,” the police chief said. “Another concern that came up a few years ago when this current version of the ordinance was drafted was a concern for animals as well – that if it’s allowed to occur throughout the year, that it can be traumatic for dogs and other types of animals.”

Fireworks sounds may also trigger post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in affected military veterans.

Gregory said the ordinance was penned when larger fireworks that launch off the ground were legalized in West Virginia. In fact, the ordinance was approved by Buckhannon City Council in 2017 after the state Legislature, during its regular session in 2016, had passed House Bill 2852, which “legalized certain classes of consumer fireworks which had previously been illegal, including consumer fireworks,” the city’s ordinance says.

“The fireworks that ignite sparks and stuff like that on the ground have been legal for years, but West Virginia just made the rocket-type fireworks legal two or three years ago, so when the Legislature did that, the city created this ordinance in response,” Gregory said. “We’ve gotten complaints – primarily noise complaints, disturbance complaints – about fireworks’ usage for years and years before the Legislature made those available.”

The ordinance says that if a person is found to have violated the law, they will be charged with a misdemeanor and, if convicted, they will be fined not less than $100 nor more than $200 upon first offense; not less than $200 nor more than $350 for the second offense; and not less than $350 nor more than $500 for any third or subsequent offenses.

The document says if someone is charged with violating the ordinance, city police may “seize, take or remove all consumer fireworks intended to be used in violation” of the ordinance, and those fireworks might be auctioned off publicly or “destroyed at the expense of the person” from whom they were seized.

You may view Ordinance 418 – which only applies to the area within municipal boundaries – here. There is no ordinance regulating the usage of fireworks outside city boundaries in the county. In addition, the ordinance does apply to city-sanctioned events, such as the Fourth of July fireworks display slated to take place in downtown Buckhannon Friday, July 2.

If you’ve opted to leave setting off fireworks to professionals, check out our list of fireworks displays in north-central West Virginia.

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