Photo by Valerie Shelton
Fire Chief Michael Despain explains changes to the fireworks ordinance at the recent city council meeting.
By Valerie Shelton, Editor
As summer approaches and Clovis families gear up for the Fourth of July holiday, the fire department is taking steps to keep the city safe.
At a city council meeting on May 2, Clovis Fire Chief Michael Despain explained the need to revise the city’s ordinance so the department can better crack down on the use of illegal fireworks. Often, Despain said, fire department officials and police officers are able to determine where the fireworks are coming from but have had the inability to fine property owners. This means, while they can catch the people lighting them in the street, they can’t fine someone who attempts to be more discreet, lighting one firework at a time while the rest are inside a house or garage.
By making the rules more stringent to include property owners, Despain said the fire department will have an easier time dissuading people from using illegal fireworks.
“We have struggled with illegal fireworks use in the city for many years and we tried a new strategy last year where we started to really target the homeowner but what we found as we went through the hearing officer portion, the hearing officer has some concerns about how well that was communicated in advance,” Despain said. “It is a good strategy but it takes a year or two to present this information and also trying to tie two or three pieces of the municipal code together to get the connection that is really required of us so with the help of the city attorney we revised the ordinance and put it in the municipal code which makes it very specific that we intend to target the property owner with the illegal fireworks, using the existing citation process.”
Despain said the new process will only apply to a handful of cases.
“Maybe we have a situation with teenager under 18 where the parents are letting him do it and becomes a problem when we deal with the teenagers and juveniles and rules of the court,” Despain said. “The other scenario can be when we saw what they did but they have the product somewhere in the house and we’re struggling with getting them to cooperate and bring the product out and we’re dealing with a warrant and when you look at fireworks enforcement, it is really about a three hour nightmare we are dealing with. If you engage in it the current way we are doing it, it is very time consuming. If we get the citations out it is not a problem, but in the course of three hours we might issue three citations and that doesn’t really get the word out.”
The goal of the fire department, Despain said, is not citing people constantly, but making sure that firemen and police officers are seen enough in neighborhoods that people begin policing themselves and stop setting off illegal fireworks.
“Our goal is to hold the homeowner and property owner responsible so that they will in turn tell their friends, neighbors and family members not to bring it on their property,” Despain said.
The city council agreed to the changes in the ordinance and municipal code, voting to approve the changes 4-0.
“It is surprising to me that people continue to engage in using illegal fireworks despite the damage they can do not only to property, but to other people,” Mayor Pro tem bob Whalen said. “I know it has been frustrating but I appreciate that the fire department’s attitude is not to run out and cite them just because we can, but it is for education purposes for communicating to folks that they need to stop this nonsense because it is dangerous.”