Jennifer Clarke – for The Record

As the New Year approaches, flags begin to fly and lights begin to blare at the local firework stands.  And for many people, even in the Orange and Bridge City communities, fireworks are a staple celebrating the coming of the New Year. The bright colors, the loud pops and booms, and the swirl of flames is a stimulating and exciting experience, perhaps matching the anticipation of opportunities ahead.

But fireworks are heavily regulated, and for good reason. According to the National Fire Protection Association (“NFPA”), “the risk of fire death relative to hours of usage is higher for fireworks than for cigarettes.” And while such a claim may seem unbelievable, when accounting for the “estimated 17,800 reported fires . . .  started by fireworks,” which caused significant damage including “an estimated 40 civilian injuries and $32 million in direct property damage,” just in 2011, alone, the importance of public safety becomes paramount. Over the course of four years, NFPA documented an “average of 19,700 fires associated with fireworks per year. . . The largest numbers of these outdoor fires associated with fireworks involved grass fires (6,800 per year), brush fires (4,500), dumpster fires (1,700), unclassified or unknown-type natural or vegetation fires (1,300) and other outside trash, rubbish, or waste fires (1,200).” (http://www.nfpa.org)

The fires resulted in the deaths of an average of four people a year, “while data from death certificates show that five people per year were killed directly by fireworks” (NFPA). The amount of property damage and physical injury necessitates many cities and municipalities enforce safety restrictions to protect the public.

Anyone participating in an event that will involve fireworks or high levels of noise are expected to request a permit. The City of Orange requires that anyone who intends to create a firework display request a permit ten days prior to the event, and there are criteria that must be met to receive approval. Under Article 5.400 § 2(a), it is unlawful for anyone to “possess, store, manufacture, display, purchase, acquire, sell, offer for sale, sell at retail, or use, discharge or explode any Fireworks.” Without approval from the Fire Marshall, fireworks are not allowed within the corporate boundaries of the City of Orange.

While fire is a serious hazard, noise also contributes to the existing legislation. Many cities and municipalities regulate noise levels and put restrictions on the times certain types of noises are allowed. According to Preventative Vet, July 5th is the busiest day at animal shelters, and the cause is fireworks, but “according to the ASPCA, the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy estimates that fewer than 2% of cats and only 15-20% of dogs entering shelters are ever reunited with their families” (http://www.preventivevet.com). Animals are not the only ones who suffer from the effects of fireworks. “According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, up to 20% of military personnel who served in Iraq or Afghanistan experience PTSD each year,” and the startle response can often trigger problems for these men and women. (time.com). There are yard signs available through www.militarywithptsd.org, but while the group mailed “2,500 signs,” as of July 1, 2015, “3,000 people remain on a waiting list” (time.com).

The City of Bridge City prohibits fireworks under the noise control ordinance. “As soon as they start up, we start receiving calls,” says Judy with Bridge City Police Department. The city prohibits the fireworks under Article III § 13-41 which generally prohibits noises, “(a) Any unreasonably loud, disturbing, unnecessary noise which causes material distress, discomfort, or injury to persons of ordinary sensibilities in the immediate vicinity thereof is hereby declared to be a nuisance, and is prohibited; and (b) Any noise of such character, intensity, and continued duration, which substantially interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of private homes by person of ordinary sensibilities, is declared to be a nuisance in violation of this article.”

Citizens generally call due to the excessive noise which scares small children, wakes people, and causes problems to the public according to the Bridge City Police Department. The police do respond to these calls.

The purpose of regulations is not to dim the celebration of any time honored tradition, but rather to protect the health and safety of the public. Citizens are encouraged to celebrate responsibly within the existing restrictions.