Safety first: Will you have to pass a test to buy fireworks in Belleville?

News-DemocratJune 11, 2013 

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— Anyone who buys consumer fireworks in Belleville will need to show proof that they've taken a 15-minute safety class.

This Independence Day, the Belleville Fire Department plans to start enforcing a state law that requires residents to pass a test to buy fireworks such as cones, cakes and mortars.

Residents do not need to take the free class to buy novelty fireworks such as sparklers, party poppers and snakes.

Belleville Assistant Fire Chief J.P. Penet said firework vendors are not supposed to sell consumer fireworks to shoppers without certification.

Residents receive a card proving they've taken the safety class from the Fire Department. The class is a PowerPoint presentation prepared by the Illinois State Fire Marshal's office.

The Fire Department is working to put together class locations and times, and that information will soon be available, Penet said.

"It's always tough when people learn of a new requirement and though this is the first time that the city of Belleville will be incorporating this, I think the state fire marshal's intention is for people to be safe with fireworks," Penet said.

"As long as we're working toward a position of safety, I think that's a good thing," Penet said. "We want as many people to enjoy a happy and safe holiday as possible."

Penet wrote a proposal based on state and St. Clair County guidelines that clarifies the city's rules on when vendors can sell fireworks, when residents can set off fireworks and which kind of fireworks require permits.

The city's ordinance now states fireworks can't be sold, purchased or used in the city, though the city has issued permits to allow such activity.

Penet said the proposed ordinance will address these contradictions and is an alternative to banning fireworks altogether.

"Illinois is one of the most heavily regulated states in the country, and has made fireworks illegal across the state unless the local jurisdictions allow it, by permit," Penet said. "The city is doing everything that we can to give people the most freedom and still comply with state guidelines."

Aldermen are currently reviewing the draft ordinance and the full City Council likely will vote on the proposal Monday so the new rules could be in effect this July 4.

Here are some of the highlights of the proposal:

* Novelty fireworks can be used or sold year round without a permit.

* Residents can use consumer fireworks without a permit between dawn and 10 p.m. every day the week of Independence Day; and from dawn on New Year's Eve to 12:30 a.m. New Year's Day.

To use consumer fireworks at other times of the year, residents need to apply for a permit at least 15 days before the event and pay a consumer display fee of $20.

* A permit is needed at all times for pyrotechnic displays. The fee is $275.

* During a Police and Fire Committee meeting earlier this week, Lillian Schneider, an alderwoman-at-large, said she wants the sale of fireworks in Belleville to be limited to June 1 to midnight, July 4.

Schneider proposed this after Belleville Deputy Fire Chief Tom Pour said there are some vendors interested in selling fireworks in the city year-round.

Belleville Police Chief Bill Clay said the city does not have residents popping off fireworks year round.

Clay said 90 percent of the issues the Police Department deals with occurs around the July 4 holiday.

* As it stands, vendors need to register with the Illinois Fire Marshal's office and get a city permit to sell consumer fireworks and pyrotechnic displays, per state law.

Firework vendors also must apply for a Belleville business permit, which costs $250.

This year, the city does not plan to start approving permits until June 18, after the City Council votes on whether to approve the new rules, City Clerk Dallas Cook said.

The permit helps pay for a Fire Department inspection to make sure the vendor is at an authorized location and has complied with safety measures.

* Prohibited fireworks that can't be sold or used in Illinois include, but are not limited to, handheld fireworks, firecrackers, skyrockets, Roman candles, bottle rockets and sky lanterns.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

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