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Fireworks law sparks action

This Fourth of July, children nationwide will enjoy the few brief minutes of white glow emitted from fireworks like sparklers.

However, if Federal Way police witness this act, parents are likely to face a citation. The use, discharge, sale, possession and transfer of fireworks, of all kinds, have been illegal in Federal Way since June 1992.

Once again, Federal Way police and firefighters will step up their efforts in patrolling for residents possessing and discharging fireworks this Fourth of July holiday.

From July 1 through July 5, officers will be on duty responding to calls, but also looking for those breaking the "Proposed Prohibition of Fireworks Sale or Use in Federal Way" ordinance, police spokeswoman Stacy Flores said.

On July 4, in addition to the police department's regular nine-person patrol staff, two fireworks enforcement teams, each consisting of an additional three police officers and three lieutenants, will be on duty, Flores said.

These teams will work in shifts. One team will patrol the streets of Federal Way looking for violators of the fireworks ordinance from 1 to 7:30 p.m. The other team will be on duty from 7:30 p.m until 2 a.m. Firefighters from South King Fire and Rescue will ride with the fireworks enforcement team members on July 4, Flores said.

Officers do not have to witness violators firsthand to issue a citation, Flores said. If police see smoke or hear fireworks, they can legally charge the person in possession of them with a misdemeanor crime, she said.

The offense is punishable with a citation to appear in court. A judge will then determine a fee to be charged for the offense, Flores said. Community service may also be an option, she said.

Getting tougher

The city does not take lightly to breaking the fireworks law, city manager Neal Beets said at a June 19 city council meeting.

In 2006, officers issued 52 warnings and 38 criminal citations to people in possession of or who had discharged fireworks, Flores said.

Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell encouraged residents to set a good example for their children by following the law.

The Federal Way ordinance was adopted to keep city residents safe from the harm of fireworks, according to the ordinance.

In the week surrounding Independence Day, several fires are attributed to fireworks. In 2006, 794 fireworks-related fires were reported to the Washington State Patrol, Deputy Fire Marshall Karen Jones said.

Last summer in Federal Way, South King Fire and Rescue and the police responded to 16 fireworks-related fires between June 28 and July, Flores said. One of those fires caused $20,000 worth of damages, she said.

Discovering that a bottle rocket was the cause of a roof or wildfire is not uncommon because they shoot long distances and are unpredictable, Jones said.

While bottle rockets, and firecrackers, are illegal in Washington state, they can still be purchased and ignited on tribal land, Jones said.

Fireworks have the ability to harm not only wildlife and property, but humans as well. In 2006, more than 200 injuries from these devices were reported to the state patrol, Jones said. Explosive devices, such as M-80s and M-100s are federally illegal and tend to cause more traumatic injuries that may result in amputation, Jones said.

Unpredictable fireworks, such as spinners, ground flowers and others that move are the most dangerous federally legal fireworks, she said. Fountains, cones and other fireworks that remain on the ground are safer alternatives, she said.

However, smaller and more innocent-looking fireworks are also dangerous. Sparklers burn at a temperature of 1,200 degrees, Jones said. Most of the people who are injured from fireworks are males ages 8 to 14, Jones said. They are often the younger siblings of juveniles who are lighting the fireworks, she said.

Parents sometimes think older siblings are responsible enough to light the devices and know when to back away from them, she said.

"What is happening is parents don't realize that their kids don't have that good of judgement yet," Jones said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or at (253) 925-5565.

To ensure the safety of adults and children, the police will have a team that is specifically employed to respond to fireworks complaints on the Fourth of July, Flores said. To file a complaint, one may anonymously call the city's fireworks tip line at (253) 835-6799.

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