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Letting off fireworks now a civil infraction in Federal Way

All fireworks are illegal within the city limits of Federal Way. People caught letting them off will receive a $100 fine. Historically, a violation of the fireworks code has been treated as a criminal misdemeanor. It will now be addressed as a civil infraction, making the ordinance easier to enforce, police say. - Katie Adams/The Mirror
All fireworks are illegal within the city limits of Federal Way. People caught letting them off will receive a $100 fine. Historically, a violation of the fireworks code has been treated as a criminal misdemeanor. It will now be addressed as a civil infraction, making the ordinance easier to enforce, police say.
— image credit: Katie Adams/The Mirror

Beginning this Fourth of July season, individuals discharging fireworks inside the Federal Way city limits will be committing a civil infraction, punishable by a ticket.

Letting off fireworks has been against city code since Federal Way incorporated in 1990. The police department has emphasized fireworks enforcement since 1996, Cmdr. Chris Norman said. Historically, a violation of the fireworks code has been treated as a criminal misdemeanor. It will now be addressed as a civil infraction, making the ordinance easier to enforce, Norman said. The punishment now more appropriately fits the crime, he said.

“(Fireworks) are really just a major safety issue and we’re trying to keep people safe,” Norman said.

Those in violation of the fireworks ordinance can now be cited on location and their fireworks confiscated. A first-time offender will receive a $100 fine. Second- and third-time offenders will be issued a $200 and $300 ticket, respectively. The tickets are similar to a parking citation and can be contested.

The goal is to get code violators to change their behavior, Norman said. Tickets may be issued per officers’ discretion, but Norman is encouraging officers to give tickets rather than warnings.

“This is not just spoiling people’s fun,” Norman said. “It literally could be saving somebody’s eyesight or their life.”

In the past, violations of the fireworks ordinance were treated as criminal misdemeanors. Instead of monetary fines, police handed out tickets accompanied by a court date. A judge would make the final call on what a person’s punishment ought to be.

Recently, in researching enforcement options for the police’s animal services unit, the city’s law and police departments realized civil infractions could be useful in enforcing the fireworks ordinance, Norman said. City code 1.15.110: Infractions authorized and statutes adopted, permits police to issue civil infractions, instead of criminal misdemeanors, as means for upholding areas of the city’s code, such as that pertaining to fireworks. Unlike a misdemeanor offense, a civil infraction does not appear on one’s permanent criminal record.

A person committing a civil infraction is seldom jailed.

Police have already stepped up fireworks patrols in preparation for the upcoming holiday. Patrols will be active from June 25 through July 5. Special emphasis will take place at Steel Lake Park, Celebration Park and in areas reporting fireworks violations on July 4. Units will pay close attention to neighborhoods known for violating the code, Norman said.

“For me, it’s purely a safety issue,” Norman said. “What is a child’s sight worth? You can’t put a value on that.”

Strict enforcement is necessary due to the many injuries that annually result from fireworks, he said. In 2009, South King Fire and Rescue responded to more than 40 fireworks-related incidents, according to a statement by the city. The fire district responded to 15 fireworks-related fires in Federal Way. Firefighters were called to four fires in Des Moines and eight in unincorporated King County. One person was seriously injured in a one of the incidents.

Though many people give little thought to handling and discharging fireworks, the act can be dangerous. In 2008, approximately 7,000 fireworks-related injuries were treated in U.S. hospitals, according to the June 2010 National Fire Protection Association “Fireworks” Report, found at www.nfpa.org. Additionally, roughly 22,500 fireworks-related fires were reported in the United States, causing one death, 40 civilian injuries and $42 million in property damage, according to the report. The risk of fireworks injury is highest for teens ages 15 to 19 and children ages 5 to 9. Thirty-two percent of injuries that resulted in a visit to an emergency room in 2007 were attributed to fountains, novelty fireworks and sparklers — which burn at 1,200 degrees.

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