Fireworks complaints are high in Des Moines and around Iowa in 2020

CLOSE

As consumer fireworks become legal in Iowa, the Nevada fire chief wants to educate as many as he can about handling explosives in a safe manner.

For Tricia Conner’s family, fireworks season is a battle. But this year has been especially difficult. 

Her 2-year-old son, Theo, has autism and is hypersensitive to loud noises. He cannot sleep through the night while fireworks are going off, and even his noise machine, fan and blackout curtains can’t block out the mortar-like booms going off outside their Des Moines home.

“He could be in a full sleep and he’ll sit up screaming,” Conner said. Theo doesn’t understand what fireworks are, even though they’ve shown him videos. 

Theo’s screams usually wake his 3-month-old sister, Ivy, leaving both children in tears. Tricia Conner and her husband, Joel Conner, take turns comforting the children.

It can take anywhere between 30 minutes and many hours to calm Theo and get him back to sleep, Tricia Conner said. If it’s a night when the fireworks don’t stop, he stays awake. 

“Sometimes it can just go on all night long,” she said. 

Tricia Conner, 40, with her husband Joel, 38, and son Theo, 2. Theo was diagnosed with autism in May and is hypersensitive to loud noises and other stimuli. Fireworks are especially scary for him, and he hasn’t been able to sleep through the night for weeks. (Photo: Courtesy of Tricia Conner/Special to the Register)

Meanwhile, the Conner family dog, Chloe, runs through the house barking. The 10-year-old boxer is terrified of fireworks and sometimes pees out of fear — sometimes on the couple’s bed — which means the added task of laundry in the middle of the night. 

It’s been an almost nightly routine for the family for the past few weeks, Tricia Conner said. 

Lighting recreational fireworks has been illegal inside Des Moines city limits since 2018, with fines as high as $650 per violation. That hasn’t stopped residents from firing them off: Vendors across the state say sales are brisk, and complaints during the first few weeks of June were double what Des Moines police received in June 2019. 

Retailers and police say boredom during the coronavirus pandemic is at least partly to blame.  

“It could very easily be a combo of accessibility to fireworks, the cancellation of many annual Fourth of July celebrations, and COVID-19 cabin fever,” said Sgt. Paul Parizek of Des Moines police, which answered 552 fireworks-related calls between June 1 and June 24. In all of June 2019, the DMPD received 245 such calls. 

Police in other metro cities where fireworks are illegal, including Altoona, Urbandale and West Des Moines, are seeing a similar uptick. Even Ankeny, where fireworks are legal on July 4, has seen a spike in the number of complaints.

Only Waukee, where fireworks are legal to light on July 3 and July 4, has seen fewer complaints in the metro area. 

► Know the rules: What to know before lighting fireworks in your neighborhood

Big booms are big business

Jonathon Ide of Big Bang Fury Fireworks said sales were consistent and higher than usual despite only having one location in Polk City. The family business, which is in its fourth year, has had such a loyal following that people from the south side of Des Moines trek out to Polk City to buy exclusively from the retailer, Ide said.

Ide said many of his customers say they’re buying fireworks to cure some of the boredom of staying home during the pandemic.

“People have been locked in their homes, and there’s not as many fireworks shows to go to this year, so now they’re wanting to do them themselves,” he said.

► Sky Highs: Where to find fireworks – and other celebrations – through the Fourth of July weekend

Autoplay

Show Thumbnails

Show Captions

Last SlideNext Slide

Jeremiah Terhark, the owner of Iowa Fireworks Co., started shopping for fireworks earlier than normal this season and is buying more than in previous years. 

“It’s something that they can go out and finally do that hasn’t been canceled,” he said, “We are twice as busy as normal.”

Iowa Fireworks Co., which has 12 locations in central Iowa and 35 across the state, isn’t the only fireworks business that’s booming. Steven Greig, general manager of Blazing Glory fireworks, said he’s seen higher demand this year as well. 

Everything from sparklers to artillery fireworks — particularly larger ones like cakes and mortars — is selling well, they said.

Is there a solution?

As complaints rise, Des Moines police say it’s difficult for officers to have enough evidence to issue a citation for fireworks violations.

“Possession is not against the law,” Parizek said. “It’s not that simple for us to take enforcement action, we have to have evidence and we need to have a complaining witness,” he said. 

That’s why Ide, who sells fireworks, said he doesn’t believe a complete ban on fireworks is the right solution, although he understands that fireworks can be disruptive and harmful. Instead, he said, residents might contain their celebrations if cities allowed them two or three days to legally set off fireworks. 

Sandi Smith looks over fireworks for sale at the Castle Fireworks tent Wednesday, June 24, 2020, in the parking lot near Dick’s Sporting Goods and Staples Office supply store in Burlington. Fireworks will be sold at the tent through July 8th. Firework sales have increased throughout the United State this season. Tent managers Misti Kelley and McKenzie Shrum remind customers that it is illegal to use or explode fireworks in the city limits of Burlington. (Photo: John Lovretta/thehawkeye.com)

That seems to be why Waukee police have received fewer fireworks-related calls –– just 11 in 2020, compared to 61 in 2019. Waukee police Sgt. Mackenzie Sposeto said she believes it is because residents can legally set off fireworks on July 3 and July 4.

“We don’t generally get a lot of complaints,” she wrote in an email. The policy has been in effect since the state legalized the sale of fireworks in 2017.

Tricia Conner said she understands that people want to have fun, and until she had children and a dog of her own, she had no problem with fireworks. But the chaos they cause for her family is something few may understand without experiencing it. 

Concentrating recreational fireworks to one or two nights could make it more manageable for dog owners, people with hypersensitivity and those with PTSD. Tricia Conner said she and her family could endure a night or two of fireworks around July 4, but day after day of explosions is unbearable.

“If it was just the weekend of the Fourth, we’d figure it out, you know, we’d get through it,” she said. “It’s the fact that it goes on for a month or six weeks. That’s a little ridiculous that we’re having to deal with this for this long.”

What’s still on for the Fourth of July?

  • Adventureland Resort: The resort has reopened for the season and patrons can enjoy the park’s activities as well as fireworks shows on July 3 and 4 at 9:30 p.m.
  • Goodguys Car Show: The event runs July 3-5 at the Iowa State Fairgrounds with a fireworks show on July 4.
  • Outlets of Des Moines: The Altoona shopping center will host two events on July 4. The Midwest Local Vendor Market runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and will feature vendors from around Iowa. The Drive-Thru Car Show goes from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and attendees are asked to bring a nonperishable food donation.
  • Prairie Meadows Fourth of July: The hotel and casino will set off fireworks on July 3 at 9:45 p.m with live music beginning at 5 p.m. There will be a Festival of Racing on July 4 at 6 p.m.
  • Urbandale Fourth of July: The fireworks show is still on for 10 p.m. on July 4 at Walker Johnson Park. 
  • Waukee Fourth of July: On July 4, professional skydivers will jump from an airplane and land in Centennial Park at 8 p.m. The fireworks display will be held at the same location at around 9:30 p.m.
  • West Des Moines fireworks display: The fireworks show is set for the West Des Moines City/School Campus on July 4 at approximately 9:30 p.m., instead of a show at Raccoon River Park. The campus is located at 4200 Mills Civic Parkway.
  • Windsor Heights fireworks show: The city will shoot off fireworks from Colby Park at 9:40 p.m. on July 4. Community members who plan to watch from the park are asked to wear masks and maintain six feet of social distancing.

Register reporters Sierra Porter and Victoria Yin contributed reporting.

Maya Miller can be contacted at mmiller4@dmreg.com or on Twitter @mmillerDSM.

Your subscription makes work like this possible. Get exclusive subscriber content and more at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal.

Read or Share this story: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2020/06/30/fireworks-complaints-high-des-moines-and-around-iowa-2020/3264215001/