A look at Evansville's fireworks laws, and what to consider before lighting the fuse July 4th

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — On a day defined by patriotism you can find Lynn Kinkade, who served in the Vietnam War, sitting in his living room, waiting for the fireworks to end.

“My celebration is sitting there listening to all the booms around and hoping I can get to sleep,” Kinkade said. "Unfortunately, I don't celebrate (July 4) actively. I'm kind of enduring. I try to protect myself and wait until it’s over.”

Perhaps the hallmark of Independence Day, fireworks tend to dominate the month of July, especially in Evansville.

Fireworks are often met with mixed views: for the most part, people either love them or hate them. Evansville police receive numerous noise complaints leading up to and following the holiday, but there is a side of fireworks that is maybe not as readily at the forefront of citizens' minds: the impacts of fireworks on pets, some veterans with PTSD and safety in general.

Evansville's fireworks ordinance

The fireworks ordinance for the city of Evansville lays out the following rules:

  • You can't set fireworks off on public land (or land not belonging to you without permission of owner)

  • On July 4, fireworks can only go until midnight. They can also be set off June 29-July 3 and July 5-9 from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

  • Penalties for violation are $25 for the first offense, $100 for the second and $250 for a third and every subsequent offense.

Calls about fireworks vary but most commonly come in as noise complaints, Evansville Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Anna Gray said.

She suspects they receive many of the calls due to citizens' lack of knowledge on the local firework laws. A lot of what the police force does after the Fourth of July, she said, is “try to educate.”

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How officers respond to calls about fireworks, and how quickly, varies depending on the case. Gray said calls where someone is injured or where people think they have heard shots fired will take first priority. Repeat offenders and calls that detail property damage will also be placed higher on the list.

Police most commonly issue verbal warnings, but if officers are called back and the behavior has not ended, they will issue a citation, Gray said.

“We really want people to enjoy the Fourth of July," she said. "But we want people to be responsible."

Fireworks on the Ohio is in full-swing at Evansville's Dress Plaza Sunday night, July 4, 2021.

Veterans and PTSD

Kinkade served as an information specialist in the Army.

He essentially became an Army journalist and didn't see combat. That eventually served as a barrier to him coming to terms with his own PTSD symptoms.

During the war, he was in areas where combat had previously occurred or was likely to spark again. He was constantly in a vulnerable position, he said, but since he didn't experience combat, he invalidated his struggles upon returning home.

It took him a long time to realize the way that the war impacted his mind and body. One of his triggers he came to recognize were loud noises such as those created by fireworks, which can be "extremely traumatic."

On nights where the sky is lit up, he struggles to sleep and becomes incredibly disoriented, he said. That could lead him to react in different ways. In the past, he's charged outside in his stockinged feet, ready to fight.

“If you really think we fought for your freedoms, why are you using this (holiday) to terrorize and traumatize us?” Kinkade asked.

Impacts on animals

Year after year, the city sees a huge influx in lost pets in the days following Independence Day.

Laurie Byers, development and public relations coordinator for the Vanderburgh Humane Society, attributes this to the fireworks. The explosions can unnerve pets and cause them to run away.

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Byers recommends that all pet owners microchip their pets and have up-to-date tags, especially around July 4. She also stresses that it is important to keep your pets indoors, especially if you know they are prone to anxiety from loud noises.

A lot of work goes into preparing the animals at the humane society for the fireworks.

On the night of July 4, workers play soft music to comfort the animals and create as tranquil of an environment as possible.

“My dogs like to listen to NPR,” Byers said.

Some dogs like classical music. And the humane society is also prepared with medications and thunder jackets.

Fireworks are not an isolated event, she said. A lot of dogs that struggle with thunderstorms also struggle with fireworks, so volunteers already have techniques in place and can generally predict which dogs will require more attention.

However, most storms have warning signs such as a change in environment that either dogs or pet owners can observe. Fireworks, though, seemingly come out of nowhere. Fireworks set off in residential areas before or after the holiday are even harder to predict.

In contrast with the shelter dogs and cats, Mesker Park Zoo's animals fare well during the fireworks, said animal curator Leigh Ramon.

For any animals who are known to struggle with loud pops, the zoo will allow access indoors so that animals can have a barrier between them and the noise.

Ramon said that they rarely lock animals indoors because they generally prefer to be able to investigate the origin of the sound.

“Like most noise pollution, fireworks are distant and short lived,” she said.

Fourth of July fireworks are usually far away from the zoo anyway, contained to the riverfront and residential areas, she said. But the sound still carries.

Ramon has noticed the wolves howl along to several loud noises — fireworks, ambulance sirens, etc. — and big cats don't seem to have a problem at all.

That aligns with the differences she's often noticed in the animals. Dogs are more affected by the sounds than other types of animals, she said.

Siblings Brooklyn, 9, and Cayden Barnett, 7, play with sparklers as they wait for the big fireworks show to start at the Independence Day celebration held along the Ohio River in Downtown Henderson, Ky., Saturday night, July 3, 2021. They traveled from Wyoming to visit their father Michael Barnett of Morganfield, Ky., for the month.

Safety concerns

Greg Main, chief fire marshal for the city of Evansville, said that the weeks before and after July 4 are the busiest time of year for the fire department.

In 2021, he said the department fielded more than 44 calls, resulting in two detached structure fires and several dumpster fires.

Main said the fireworks-related runs were almost exclusively to residences, or came from calls where citizens had set off their own fireworks separate from any city/organization-sponsored display.

How to safely, respectfully enjoy fireworks

In general, Main said to never allow young children to operate fireworks and to never use fireworks when impaired from drugs or alcohol.

He said that about half of firework-related injuries the department encounters are to the hands, fingers, legs or eyes.

Some other tips:

  • Make sure you are in a safe and open area

  • Only light one device at a time

  • Don’t go to areas crowded with buildings or trees

  • Be aware of the dry conditions we are experiencing this year and how this can lead to brush fires

  • And read the instructions on the fireworks you operate

Gray urges people to be respectful of their neighbors and  to clean up any messes.

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If you want to operate your own fireworks, make sure you are on your own property or someone else’s with their permission. And know the laws about when and where you can set off fireworks.

In general, Byers suggests you “always include pets in any plan you make.”

If you plan to go watch fireworks, have a plan for your dogs, for example. She also urged people to be more aware of their surroundings.

Think about your neighbors who may struggle with PTSD or have noise-sensitive pets, or just don't like the noise and disruption, she said.

Noiseless alternatives available

Although noiseless fireworks pose similar risks when it comes to fire safety, their silence eliminates some other concerns. But noiseless fireworks still fall under the purview of the city ordinance.

Here are the noiseless alternatives available in the Evansville area, according to calls to local shops:

  • Stateline Fireworks: fountains

  • Dreamland Fireworks: novelties such as sparklers, lanterns and fountains

  • State Line Sales Inc.: fountains and sparklers, larger fireworks vary in noise

  • Fireworks Galore: quieter options but no silent options

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Fireworks: 200 and 500 kegs that range from $30-$45.

  • Smokin Joe’s Fireworks: no completely quiet options, have fountains

  • Walmart (at various locations): no silent fireworks

This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: Pets, noise and fire: Fireworks concerns to consider on July 4