Fireworks calls were up 56% this year from July 1-5 in Kent compared to 2019.
There were 383 calls to 911 or incidents spotted by officers, according to Kent Police Assistant Chief Derek Kammerzell in a July 21 report to the City Council. There were 245 calls during the same dates last year. There were 297 calls in 2018 and 430 calls in 2017.
“Due to the current climate, department guidance from the chief was a modified approach from last year,” Kammerzell said. “A tactic of strong enforcement was not in the best interest of our department and the community.”
Kammerzell said officers tried to get to as many fireworks complaints as they could with fewer resources. Police used a two-officer emphasis car from July 1-5 during peak hours of 8 to 11 p.m.
“The focus was based on education and gaining compliance in lieu of citations and confiscation unless absolutely necessary,” he said.
There were 209 fireworks calls on July 4, up 30% from the 161 calls in 2019.
Officers handled 204 incidents in person, including 115 on the Fourth of July. Officers issued no citations or infractions. They issued 70 verbal warnings and in one case confiscated about one-half pound of fireworks. No fireworks injuries were reported. Four fireworks-related fires were reported, two at residential homes.
The council passed a fireworks ban in 2016 in part because 62 percent of voters approved a ban in a November 2015 advisory vote to the council. It is illegal to discharge fireworks at any time, and subject to a $250 ticket and the seizure of your fireworks. The discharge of fireworks in a reckless manner or possession of more than 20 pounds is a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.
A crime has to be seen by an officer, which makes it difficult to issue citations for fireworks, Chief Rafael Padilla said. He added it can be a challenge to determine which property the fireworks came from. Then officers have to identify the offender. Officers noted it was hard to make contact with people lighting off fireworks in backyards.
With more people at home because of COVID-19 and the cancellation of the city’s annual Splash event and fireworks display at Lake Meridian Park, police expected the number of fireworks cases might go up.
But Padilla said it wasn’t a year to crack down on violators.
“With everything going on in our country, tension with law enforcement, we didn’t want to put officers in a position to be a lighting rod for confrontation and other issues so we went with warnings and education,” Padilla said.
The Washington State Fire Marshal’s Office reported in a July 22 media release that it had received 265 reports of fireworks-related incidents from hospitals, clinics and fire agencies so far this year. Of the 265 reports received, there were 92 fires and 173 injuries, one of which was a fatality in Snohomish County.
Fires resulted in property loss of $67,790. There were 51 vegetation fires and nine residential fires. Legal fireworks caused 45% of the fires.
Injuries included burns, facial injuries, hand injuries, hearing or vision loss. Of those, 35% were due to being hit by fireworks; 32% were due to holding fireworks after lighting them; 62% were attributable to legal fireworks; 21% were children under the age of 18. Most of the injuries occurred between 10 p.m. and midnight on the Fourth of July.
The one death was accidental resulting from the premature explosion of a mortar-style firework.