Lexington councilman wants to limit hours for fireworks

After noisy Fourth, Lexington officials consider need to crack down on fireworks' use

jkegley@herald-leader.combfortune@herald-leader.comJuly 7, 2011 

After receiving numerous complaints that Lexington sounded like a war zone during the Fourth of July weekend, at least one Urban County Council member wants stricter local restrictions on fireworks.

Council member Kevin Stinnett said Wednesday he has asked the city's law department to draft an ordinance to limit hours when fireworks may be set off and deal with "volume of noise." The ordinance would not be limited to the Fourth; it also would deal with fireworks at events such as Lexington Legends baseball games, New Year's Eve and private parties.

"Not that we don't want people to have fun, but on appropriate nights instead of five or six nights in a row," Stinnett said.

There were 553 general noise complaints to Lexington's 911 call center Friday through Tuesday, said David Lucas, director of the Division of Enhanced 911. That's up from 308 complaints during the holiday weekend last year — before bottle rockets, mortars and firecrackers could be purchased legally in the state.

Many in Lexington seemed to be OK with folks celebrating the holiday with a bang, but with one caveat: They don't want to hear them at all hours of the night.

"I don't think they should be banned, because people should be allowed to celebrate," said Ronda White of Lexington. "I just wish they would be a little more courteous to their neighbors."

White, who lives in the Blackford Oaks subdivision near Hamburg, said her neighborhood was lit up until early morning with fireworks explosions, which kept her 5-year-old up well past his bedtime.

White suggested creating a cut-off time, prohibiting fireworks from being detonated after a certain hour.

Her suggestion is one city council representatives have heard repeatedly from constituents complaining of scared pets and sleepless nights.

Council member Tom Blues said he would ask the council's Public Safety Committee to take up the issue of limiting fireworks use.

All the complaints he received were related to the noise, "and not just one night but several days of the same kind of bombardment that frightened pets, and people couldn't sleep," Blues said. In his Meadowthorpe neighborhood, "The noise was horrendous," he said.

The long weekend exacerbated the situation, giving people "a lot more time to go out and buy fireworks and set them off," said council member Bill Farmer, who heard loud explosions in his Chevy Chase neighborhood at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday. "Why would anybody be setting off fireworks at 4:30 a.m.?"

Because this was the first year that aerial fireworks were legal in Kentucky for general use, "people went wild" buying and setting off fireworks, council member Steve Kay said, adding that he did not hear any information disseminated about the city's noise ordinance. If it had been, some of the late-night use might have been curbed, he said.

Considering the number of people who set off fireworks, council member Chris Ford was "relieved we had no major injuries. They might have been a nuisance, but we had no serious injuries, and for that I am somewhat relieved."

While noise complaints skyrocketed, injuries and property damage did not reach levels anticipated by Lexington firefighters when they began an education campaign about the new fireworks law months ago.

There were relatively few reports of injuries or property damage Friday through Monday, officials said.

"Initial reports are that we did remarkably well," Battalion Chief Marshall Griggs said.

At least three children were treated at local hospitals for minor burns to the hands, face or arms; fire crews battled grass and trash fires; and hundreds of annoyed neighbors called 911 to complain about the constant explosions.

The number of injuries did not constitute a crisis-level increase from previous years, he said, but the fire department has not received information from local emergency rooms about the number of walk-in fireworks injuries — people who drove themselves to the hospital to be treated.

"We are confident that there were more injuries ... that weren't reported to the fire service," Griggs said. "The ones that the fire department dealt with directly, we saw no real increase at all."

Firefighters extinguished 17 grass or trash fires during the weekend, which was up from last year's holiday weekend, he said. Only two fires — one in a trash can and one in a Dumpster — were confirmed to be caused by fireworks.

There were no structure fires that appeared to be caused by fireworks. According to police records, there was a report that the Pearson & Peters Architects building on Kentucky Avenue was damaged by fireworks, but Griggs said it wasn't a fire. Apparently, fireworks caused security alarms to go off, sending police to the building.

With many sellers offering buy-one-get-one-free and after-holiday sales, it's likely that fireworks connoisseurs stocked up for future celebrations. Neighborhoods throughout Lexington continue to ring with periodic booms as night falls.

"We hope folks are continuing to be very careful and cautious when they continue to use those so there's no injuries down the road," Griggs said.

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