Fireworks issue in Broken Arrow not going on ballot, petition drive suggested


By John Dobberstein, Editor

The Broken Arrow City Council has chosen not to place the legality of fireworks on a future ballot, suggesting instead that citizens consider a petition drive that would force a vote of the people.

But residents should expect increased enforcement next year targeting those shooting off fireworks after 11 p.m., or on days other than July 3-4, as those actions violate the city’s ordinances.

Complaints have been lodged repeatedly by pet owners, family members with a veteran coping with mental health issues, and those that may have anxiety or sensory issues. But city councilors did not seem willing Tuesday to spend money on a special election over fireworks, given that the issue was voted on 16 years ago and legalization was overwhelmingly approved.

An initiative petition drive would likely require about 1,200 valid signatures and comply with all the city’s legal requirements.

“If there is a group of citizens out there who really feel passionate about this and want to round up signatures, then by statute they could put it on the next election,” said Ward 3 City Councilor Christi Gillespie. “I’m not in favor of spending money just to have an election.”

Most on the City Council seemed to agree fireworks will continue to be discharged in Broken Arrow even if it was made illegal. So the conversation turned to enforcement efforts by police and firefighters.

Many households have begun setting off fireworks days before the July 4 holiday, sometimes lighting the fuse as late as midnight or even later and disturbing neighbors. Enforcement of fireworks rules has been lax for the last several years, but the city continued to charge for permits.

Broken Arrow Police Chief Brandon Berryhill has noted before that fireworks enforcement can be difficult because the perpetrators may not be around when officers arrive to a call, or too many calls come in simultaneously for police to handle all at once.

This summer the city issued just under 1,300 fireworks permits and representatives from the police and fire departments issued 12 citations. Berryhill said for 2023 there were 17 fireworks-related calls on July 3-4 that were non-actionable because the offending party wasn’t present or the complainant would not sign the back of the citation as a witness. For July 4-5 that number was 37 and for July 5-6 it was 14.

But a new direction is being undertaken on enforcement for 2024. Berryhill said the department plans to utilize the city’s GIS system and GPS in patrol vehicles so officers can drive through neighborhoods and see who has obtained a permit for fireworks.

If an officer observes someone shooting off fireworks where a permit isn’t indicated, that would allow the officer to investigate and potentially issue a citation.

Berryhill suggested a PSA be created that might talk about the protocols for keeping pets calm during fireworks displays, proper fencing, sedation methods and the like. Gillespie added that housing associations should also be contacted and notified about the city’s fireworks regulations. 

“Clearly we live in patriotic city, but you would hope they would follow the rules and not do it until 2 or 3 a.m. or do it three days before they’re supposed to or three days after – and clean up their mess. That’s not what is happening,” said Ward 2 Councilor Lisa Ford.

At-Large City Councilor Johnnie Parks said a petition drive might be something for veterans to get behind if they feel strongly about the fireworks issue. Gillespie suggested perhaps a movie night or some other type of event be held on Main Street for veterans to attend.

Broken Arrow resident Misty Stevens told the Council that she and her husband – a decorated war veteran who did four tours of duty in the Middle East – no longer spend the July 4 holiday at home. This year they dropped their kids off at their grandparents’ house and went to Colorado.

“We would have loved to spend July the fourth here, but many people in our house detest the holiday,” Stevens said. “My kids don’t sleep, they’re nervous and scared. And second, our pets don’t understand why the walls are shaking. And it’s not the fireworks that happen at 10 p.m. that bother (my husband). What he doesn’t expect is at 10:30 a.m. on July 7 there is an explosion feet from our door.

“What I don’t expect is for our police and fire to spend a week of their lives paid overtime when they really want to be at the lake with their families. But what might be lovely would be increasing the permit fee, and really publicizing that you’re restricting fireworks to time permitted to use them. It’s the fact that it’s nonstop.”

Assistant Fire Chief Mark Stewart said his department’s task is to look out for life safety and property conservation in the city “and nothing about fireworks that helps either one of these causes,” he said, adding that about 10,000 U.S. citizens per year are injured by fireworks.

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