Although numerous professional Fourth of July fireworks shows this summer have been canceled, emergency officials are warning the public about illegal personal use of fireworks in city limits, which could result in hefty fines, arrests or life-altering injuries.
Last month, Federal Way canceled the annual Red, White and Blues Festival and accompanying fireworks display scheduled for July 4 at Celebration Park due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. The event drew more than 20,000 attendees in 2019.
“July 4th is always a busier time for us,” said Kevin Crossen, assistant chief of operations for South King Fire and Rescue. “With all the other shows canceled this year due to COVID-19, we have to assume there’s going to be more people lighting off fireworks.”
Historically, Independence Day has a greater risk nationwide for fire dangers due to fireworks, Crossen said. South King Fire responded to 21 fires caused by fireworks around the time of Independence Day in 2019.
To prepare for the potential increase of pyrotechnic-related emergencies, the department will increase staffing as it has in prior years. From 5 p.m to 7:30 a.m. on the Saturday holiday, South King Fire will have two additional engine crews, an additional battalion chief and two assistant chiefs on duty.
On the law enforcement side, Federal Way police will have additional officers on patrol in the days prior to the holiday and on the Fourth of July.
The law is simple in Federal Way: All types of fireworks for personal use are illegal at all times — including handheld sparklers.
In 2019, the FWPD issued 19 tickets for illegal use of fireworks. Officers also responded to 1,502 calls for service and 180 calls related to fireworks between June 30 through July 5. On Independence Day in 2019, officers responded to 337 calls for service and 110 calls specifically related to fireworks.
“We want everybody to remember this is not a police initiative,” said Deputy Chief Kyle Sumpter during a Federal Way City Council meeting June 16. The citywide ban of fireworks was implemented by the city council soon after Federal Way was incorporated in the 1990s.
The four main reasons for the ban are the noise disturbance, air and ground pollution from firework debris, increased risk of injury and fires, Sumpter said.
Per the Federal Way City Code, an individual’s first violation for fireworks results in a $300 fine and all fireworks will be confiscated.
If an individual discharges or uses fireworks in a reckless manner that creates a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another person or damage to the property, they may be guilty of a gross misdemeanor, which is an arrestable offense, Sumpter said.
“We don’t want to be in the arrest business, especially for fireworks,” Sumpter said. The department’s number one goal every year is voluntary compliance to reduce police contacts with citizens over fireworks, he said.
“Comply with the law and we won’t be in your business on a beautiful American holiday. It’s that simple,” Sumpter said.
Throughout Washington state, 24 jurisdictions have a total ban on fireworks including Kent, Seattle, Tacoma, Yakima and others, Sumpter said. The Federal Way Public Schools district does not allow fireworks on any school properties.
Federal Way police are also urging homeowners associations and multi-family properties within the city to entact property rules that ban fireworks and establish in-house penalties for violations for the safety of their residents, he said.
For residents concerned with neighbors who chronically violate the fireworks law, you may alert the police department and they will conduct a pre-Fourth of July police visit to the neighbor to ask for voluntary compliance. To do so, email Deputy Chief Kyle Sumpter at email@example.com before July 2.
Although fireworks are illegal in the city of Federal Way, there are many people who light them up anyway, Crossen said, and fireworks in a residential area result in a greater chance of fire danger.
Personal use of fireworks in past years have caused minor fires, some of which resulted in serious house fires, said Assistant Chief Gordy Goodsell.
“Every year throughout the county we see fires that are the result of fireworks, which can lead to loss of homes, or lifetime impairments,” Goodsell said. “It’s really sad when you see it because it’s so preventable.”
As a precaution, residents should mow their lawns, cut back dry grass, trim overgrown bushes, store combustibles away from their homes, and also keep roofs and gutters clear of tree needles or other yard debris. The best way to avoid injury or fires is to avoid using fireworks.
While the pandemic has changed many traditions, holidays and other community events, South King Fire officials encourage families to spark their creativity and find other ways to celebrate the July holiday.
Some ideas to try while abiding by social distancing include glow stick dance parties, confetti balloons, pinatas, an outdoor movie night, or even dressing up your family’s pet in a freedom-festive outfit.
“A lot of celebrations look different this year,” Crossen said. “It’s important that we look at other alternatives to celebrate.”
To report unlawful uses of fireworks in progress, call the Federal Way police non-emergency number at 253-835-2121.