A Lexington neighborhood is unhappy with a new city regulation that requires a $5 million insurance policy before a permit is issued for a fireworks display.
Firebrook subdivision off Harrodsburg Road near the Jessamine County line canceled its July 4 fireworks display when it couldn't raise the $12,000 needed to pay the premium for the insurance policy. The fireworks display — which was to cost less than $10,000 — has been an annual tradition for at least 15 years.
"Increasing the baseline insurance from $1 million to $5 million made it nearly impossible for us to collect the additional $6,000 needed to cover the cost in less than 48 hours," said Dr. David Keedy, a longtime Firebrook resident.
The state requires a minimum $1 million insurance policy for fireworks permits. But in March the city increased the minimum to $5 million based on several settlements of fireworks-related injuries that were more than $1 million, said Lexington Battalion Chief Mike Farmer, the city's fire marshal. Under the law, the city is allowed to increase the minimum insurance requirement.
Farmer said fireworks operators who had sought permits in previous years were notified of the change via email in March if the department had valid email addresses. Farmer said the state fire marshal's office also received information about the increase to pass along to vendors.
Other neighborhoods and groups that routinely have fireworks displays were able to cover the additional insurance costs, Farmer said.
Among those issued fireworks permits this year were Andover and Hartland neighborhoods, and Idle Hour and Lexington country clubs. Andover's fireworks display had to be delayed because of soggy conditions at the launch site. The Downtown Lexington Corp., a nonprofit, pays for the annual downtown fireworks display and also was issued a permit.
But Farmer said that in addition to Firebrook, two other groups — both churches — opted not to seek a permit this year after being told of the $5 million insurance requirement.
Councilwoman Amanda Bledsoe, who represents Firebrook, has referred the issue of insurance premiums and fireworks displays to the council's Planning and Public Safety Committee. It could be discussed as soon as the committee's August meeting.
Bledsoe said that she understood the city needs to ensure safety — there are plenty of examples on YouTube of fireworks displays that have gone tragically awry. But the city also needs to be mindful of unintended consequences.
"This is a policy question that I think we need to discuss," Bledsoe said. "We want to ensure safety, but we also want to make sure that those policies are not cost-prohibitive."
Farmer said some firework operators have insurance that can cover the $5 million, and the cost is included in the price to the venue. Sometimes, the venue where the fireworks are detonated covers the insurance costs.
Firebrook has used a small fireworks operator that does not have a $5 million policy, Farmer said.
That's why there was a last-minute scramble among Firebrook residents days before July 4 to raise the additional money needed to cover the $12,000 premium. They originally thought they needed $5,000 for a $1 million insurance policy. But the mixup in the amount of insurance required in order to get a permit resulted in the cancellation.
"We didn't have time in 48 hours to come up with the additional money," said Al Wilson, a Firebrook resident.
Wilson said he had one neighbor who was expecting more than 30 guests for the fireworks show. Keedy said he had a neighbor whose son's birthday is July 4. They typically have a birthday party followed by the Firebrook fireworks, Keedy said.
By raising the minimum insurance requirements, the city might be getting more illegal fireworks displays, Wilson said.
"I can understand the city's concern, " he said. "But we are shooting them out over a pond next to a field, and there's only one building that's close to it. It's much safer than people doing their own fireworks displays, which is what used to happen."
Still, Farmer said he didn't think the $5 million insurance requirement was excessive.
"If one judgment came back at $4.75 million, it's obviously not too high," he said.
Farmer said he understood Firebrook residents' frustrations.
He missed their fireworks display, too.
"That's where I typically go," Farmer said.