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Gehrig: Initiated measure may be needed to change Fargo fireworks law

Fargo City Commissioner Tony Gehrig

FARGO — It may require an initiated measure to make possessing and using fireworks legal in Fargo, City Commissioner Tony Gehrig said Tuesday, Aug. 1, after a meeting at City Hall that included police and fire officials, commission members and fireworks industry representatives.

"We're not fixing anything with a prohibition" on fireworks, said Gehrig, noting that thousands of people around the city celebrate the Fourth of July annually by lighting off everything from handheld sparklers to multi-shot mortar shell cakes — despite an ordinance that bans their possession or use.

"I really want to see something that is much more enforceable," Gehrig said.

At the same time, he said given opposition from firefighters and residents unhappy with the loud crackles and booms of fireworks, it's unlikely the City Commission could pass a less-restrictive ordinance.

"Let the people do an initiated measure," Gehrig said.

He said he'd prefer city ordinances to more closely mirror the realities of fireworks use in the area. He said people should be able to possess and transport fireworks in the city without penalty.

Gehrig said he would also support allowing handheld sparklers, fountains or fireworks that fly no more than 30 feet into the air.

Commissioner Dave Piepkorn said it is ironic that North Dakotans "can carry a .45-cal Glock" handgun legally, "but you can't carry a firework."

At the same time, he said he'd support stiffer fines for firing off large mortar-type shells in the city.

"If someone lights off a shell," it could travel a long way, Piepkorn said. "As consumers, you can buy very large shells."

Commissioner John Strand said he's received a lot of feedback on the issue, with most people against weakening Fargo's fireworks ordinances.

Police and fire department representatives aren't fans of any changes, either.

Deputy Police Chief Ross Renner said his department's efforts are focused on limiting the use of large fireworks in the city. He said police resources are stretched thin around Independence Day, and making some fireworks legal and others illegal would still require officers to investigate each call

"My goal is to find a happy medium," Gehrig said.

"I think you have a happy medium right now," Renner said.

Fire Marshal Ryan Erickson said the Fire Department doesn't favor allowing storage of fireworks, or the use of handheld sparklers or fountains.

"It's contrary to our mission to try and prevent fires," he said.

Erickson added that many fireworks injuries — about 16 percent, according to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission — are attributed to burns from handheld sparklers.

David Reuter, a representative of Memory Fireworks, said his customers are confused by the differences in laws within the metro area, with West Fargo allowing fireworks and Fargo not allowing them.

"We just wanted to get the discussion going," Reuter said. "I think it's very positive we're having the discussion. I'm happy that it's at least being brought up."

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including K-12 education, Fargo city government, criminal justice, and military affairs. He is currently one of The Forum's business reporters.

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