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O’Fallon launches into discussion regarding legalization of fireworks

(Thinkstock photo)

(Thinkstock photo)

The topic of legalizing certain types of fireworks in O’Fallon sparked a debate at a recent City Council meeting.

Councilmember Dave Hinman (Ward 1), who broached the topic with the council at a work session on April 9, said that since residents have approached him in the past with questions regarding the legality of fireworks, he wanted to bring the item before the council for discussion.

O’Fallon’s current city code prohibits the use of fireworks, except by a specially granted permit.

A draft of a new ordinance, available on the city website, would create two days only where fireworks would be legal – July 3 and 4 from noon-11 p.m. According to the drafted ordinance, only residents over the age of 16 could possess or use the fireworks, and certain types of fireworks, such as bottle rockets and fireworks with fins, would remain illegal.

Hinman said the drafted ordinance would allow residents to commemorate the Fourth of July with common fireworks, and would also reduce the amount of police time spent regulating the use of fireworks over the holiday.

Chief of Police Roy Joachimstaler said that he had investigated the fireworks ordnances of nearby cities. St. Charles County allows fireworks on July 2-5 and on the evening of Dec. 31. They are completely illegal in Wentzville, St. Peters and Lake Saint Louis, according to Joachimstaler. Cottleville allows fireworks from June 15-July 15 between 10 a.m.-11 p.m.

Joachimstaler also said that last year, the city had 162 radio calls for discharged fireworks between June 30 and July 6. In 2013, 216 calls had come in. The total calls for 2012 and 2011, there were 318 and 336 calls, respectively.

“On July 3rd and 4th, we checked to see how many fireworks calls we got on those two days alone and the O’Fallon Police Department handled 82 radio calls on those two days,” Joachimstaler said.

Councilmember Bob Howell (Ward 4) said prior to the meeting, he had received several calls and emails from residents wanting the fireworks regulations to stay the same in the city. Howell agreed that reducing the number of police calls was important, but noted Joachimstaler’s declining call numbers.

“I do agree with you, Councilman Hinman, about the calls for the department, I agree 100 percent, but by looking at this, we went from 336 to 162, it looks like we are dropping 40-50 calls a year,” Howell said.

Some of the other councilmembers also weighed in on the matter.

Councilmember Jeff Schwentker (Ward 4) said that he wouldn’t be opposed to polling the residents, but that the input he had received from residents was “overwhelmingly” against legalizing fireworks.

“It comes down to a safety factor,” Schwentker said.

Councilmember Jim Pepper (Ward 2) said he is “not pro or con, yes or no.”

“But I’ve gotten two (phone calls) yesterday that said (residents would) like to have them. I have not received one phone call that said they don’t want them.”

Pepper pointed out that in some subdivisions, groups or families may want to get together and shoot off fireworks, but getting a permit to do so is costly.

Mark Morrison, fire marshal for the O’Fallon Fire Protection District, also was in attendance at the April 9 meeting and was called before the council to speak on the issue. Morrison said the safest way to see fireworks is to leave it to professionals.

The topic was in front of the council for discussion only, with no planned action on the agenda.

“The biggest thing is that we are looking for feedback from our residents, to call or email any of us or all of us so we can get some feedback on it,” Hinman said.

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