Personnel from the Hobbs Police Department and Hobbs Fire Department will be patrolling the streets this Independence Day as an ordinance passed earlier this year clarifying and updating the city’s fireworks ordinance gets its first test.
Hobbs Police Chief John Ortolano has a simple message for residents who want to celebrate the holiday with fireworks: Do so safely and legally.
“People will see an extreme presence around the city to try and curb illegal fireworks,” Ortolano said. “It’s not going to be like years past.”
The newly amended ordinance “is going to be strictly enforced,” he said. “I don’t want to say (enforcement) is in black-and-white but it’s much easier now to enforce it.”
In previous years, language of the previous ordinance made cracking down on the use of illegal fireworks difficult, Ortolano said. The ordinance, amended and approved in February, takes away some of the ambiguity, codifying clear definitions of different types of fireworks and making it clear what can — and cannot — be used within the Hobbs city limits.
“The general public may have seen (the earlier) ordinance and been confused as to which fireworks they can and can’t pop,” City Attorney Efren Cortez told the city commission during the February meeting to approve the revised ordinance. “This ordinance does a great deal more for bringing understanding to the citizens.”
One bit of good news for residents who insist on launching banned fireworks in the city limits, the ordinance provides for several options when police and fire officials come calling.
“People who are not in compliance (with the ordinance) will have an opportunity to surrender their fireworks or go to the ‘safe space’ to launch the fireworks there,” Ortolano said. “Or they will be issued a citation (if they refuse either of the first two options). There will be no warnings.”
The city has set aside a portion of the Hobbs Industrial Air Park as a “safe space” for people to launch banned fireworks.
“We don’t want to run around giving people citations (for banned fireworks) unless we feel they’ve been informed of the dos and don’ts associated with” the ordinance, Cobb said. “City staff is working on an awareness campaign. We don’t want to go out and sneak around to catch people. We want it to be open. So people are well aware of what they can do, what they can’t do, where they can go — those sorts of things.”
Gomez said most of the fireworks banned in the amended ordinance have been illegal within the city limits for years. One difficulty with enforcing the previous ordinance was the difference in regulations between the city and Lea County as to which fireworks are on the prohibited list.
“We have no fireworks restrictions,” outside municipal city limits in Lea County, said Lorenzo Velasquez, county fire marshal and emergency manager. “On private land, we have none. All we’re asking is the public use caution, be careful.”
One of the prime motivations behind amending the city’s fireworks ordinance this year was public safety, said Ortolano and Gomez, who spent 36 years as a firefighter and later Hobbs fire chief before becoming city manager. Fires started by banned fireworks have long been a problem, they said. And the loud explosions caused by some fireworks can irritate domestic animals and may cause serious psychological impacts to residents suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, Ortolano said.
The commission was responding to years of complaints from residents about fireworks being launched into the wee hours of the morning, acting Hobbs Fire Chief Barry Young told the News-Sun. That despite a city code focused on a “safe and sane” approach to fireworks, he said.
“The focus was on complaints that were continually called in during the Fourth of July holiday,” Young said. “From the last week of June through the fourth and past it, we received numerous reports from citizens that fireworks were going off, scaring dogs, scaring people.”
While people are enjoying their celebrations they often don’t think of those unintended consequences, city officials said. The amended ordinance should help everyone have a safe and enjoyable holiday.
“People think nobody gets hurt or there’s no problem” to launching fireworks, Ortolano said. “We’ve had multiple fires started, we’ve had some near misses where people could have been seriously hurt — this is seriously dangerous stuff.”
Gomez agreed: “I’ve seen not only the positive effects and how fireworks can help you celebrate the Fourth of July and I’ve been on the other side where I’ve seen injury to a person, major wild fires and house fires. When you’re using these fireworks till midnight or beyond midnight, it stops being a celebration and becomes a nuisance.”
Ground and hand-held sparkling devices — Cone fountains, crackling devices, cylindrical fountains, flitter sparklers, ground spinners, illuminating torches and wheels
Banned within in city limits
• Aerial devices — Aerial shell kit-reloadable tubes, aerial spinners, helicopters, mines, missile-type rockets, multiple tube devices, roman candles, shells and stick-type rockets (except as provided in Subsection B of this section)
• Ground audible devices — chasers and firecrackers.
• Stick-type rockets having a tube less than five-eighths inch outside diameter and less than three and one-half inches in length
• Fireworks intended for sale to the public that produce an audible effect, other than a whistle, by a charge of more than one hundred thirty milligrams of explosive composition per report.