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Commission extends fireworks shooting period
Compromise reached after much discussion
county commission fireworks meeting 1
Great Bend Fire Chief Luke McCormick addresses the Barton County Commission Thursday morning about proposed changes to when rural county residents may discharge fireworks. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

At a special meeting called to consider extending the time county residents could discharge firework, the Barton County Commission approved a compromise resolution allowing the shooting of fireworks on Sunday and Monday of this year only, instead of merely on the fourth as is currently permitted.

The fireworks will be allowed from 8 a.m. to midnight on both days. This covers only the unincorporated areas of the county, not within any incorporated city limits.

Specifically stated is that no fireworks shall be discharged in Barton County if a burn ban is in effect.

The original resolution on the agenda called for allowing fireworks use from June 27 through July 4, coinciding with the period fireworks can be sold in the county. It would have established this as permanent policy, rescinding a resolution approved in 2004.

However, there were concerns from county fire chiefs and emergency responders worried about increased call volumes and staffing issues. So, commissioners cut the period to two days strictly for 2022, and agreed to revisit the matter before the next Fourth.

“That’s why we’re here today, just to discuss this,” said commission Chairman Shawn Hutchinson, District 3, noting he didn’t think there would be opposition to the idea. “Hopefully we could find some common ground with the fire departments and of citizens and maybe come to some sort of compromise. and make something work for everybody.”

Commissioners also said they’s been contacted by constituents opposed to the extension.

The discussion

It was Sheriff Brian Bellendir who brought up the longer time frame.

“You’ve got me in an impossible situation,” he said. Since sales start on June 27, people start shooting them off then, leading to a flood of complaint calls.

“In the history of the Sheriff’s Office. I don’t know that we have ever written a summons for unlawful discharge,” he said. “I don’t want a law on the books that I can’t enforce.”

He said this only really becomes a problem when the Fourth falls on a weekend.

He knew of two unincorporated towns planning displays for Sunday. Under the current resolution, he’d have to tell them to stop.

“I believe that is just simply unpatriotic. I believe that is an infringement on people’s rights who live in that area,” he said. “And I just believe this is far too restrictive.”

He also said families are gathering over the weekend and may want to celebrate July 4 early before family members have to leave town.

“In the past, when a family has wanted to have a special celebration, they just come to us and we give them that special authority,” District 5 Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. “And as far as the two towns that are doing it. I think they really need to come to us and make it known that that’s what they’re doing.”

As a matter of fact, the commission Wednesday approved special permission for Encounter Church to hold a display Sunday night.

“Speaking for the Great Bend Fire Department, I think leaving it alone is the best for us,” Fire Chief Luke McCormick said. “Because when we add multiple days of shooting, that creates additional staff loads, and staff is already tricky enough” especially for the smaller volunteer departments.

And, “wheat harvest is not done. We’re in the rural areas of Kansas, that that’s an issue,” he said. 

“I understand the nuisance the call part,” McCormick said. But, these calls could be treated as an education opportunity and, if necessary, the fireworks can be confiscated until the Fourth.

“Your just shifting the call volumes from the Sheriff’s Office to the fire departments,” said Albert Fire Chief Charles Keller, backing the status quo. In addition to personnel, he was worried about city residents driving into the country to shoot fireworks where many would leave their mess behind.

“My call load drastically increases on Fourth of July,” said Dana Popp, 911 director. “I have to have additional staffing because of the call load.” 

She said they have already started getting calls. “So that forces me to also pay overtime,” she said.

The decision

There was talk of allowing fireworks Saturday, Sunday and Monday, something a reluctant Bellendir supported.

“I agree that if we would go the three days that would fix the problems we’ve got with some displays. That would take some of our call load off,” he said. “I think it’d be a good compromise.”

However, there was still push back from the fire chiefs in the commission chamber. So, in the end, the commission opted for the two-day time period, only for this year.

The resolution passed is only for 2022. The current resolution that only allows fireworks to be discharged on July 4 will remain in effect after this holiday passes.

McCormick said Thursday’s meeting came on short notice. He felt, and others agreed, that the matter should be addressed in a study session setting prior to next July 4 with the commission, cities, fire departments and fireworks vendors present.

Such a meeting could beheld before year’s end.

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Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir voices his support for extending the period rural Barton County residents can use fireworks during a special County Commission meeting Thursday morning. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune