With more than 200 fireworks complaints on July 4, the Hobbs Fire Department reported in preliminary data that only three citations were written last weekend. Violators of the city fireworks ordinance were given alternatives to a citation.
The Independence Day weekend was the city’s first experience following city commission approval in February of a new fireworks ordinance. City officials acknowledge some improvements in implementation of the ordinance may be coming.
“I believe the next time we have enforcement patrols out, there will be a far greater number of citations issued,” said Hobbs Police Chief John Ortolano. “I think this year was more of an education campaign. The edict that has been relayed to me from the general public has all been they wish there was a much stricter enforcement and a higher number of citations being issued.”
By city ordinance, citizens using illegal fireworks were given two choices before being issued a citation: either surrender their fireworks, destroying them in a tank of water provided by the city, or go to a Safe Zone at the Hobbs Industrial Air Park (HIAP) to fire them off.
“In the three days we did our firework patrol — the 2nd, 3rd and 4th, or Friday, Saturday and Sunday — we responded to 217 fireworks-related complaint calls,” said Acting Fire Chief Barry Young. “Most of those were called into dispatch. There were some that were calls we created ourselves when we saw fireworks.”
Young said the storm Friday night kept most people indoors, with the fire and police departments only receiving one call all evening.
Activity picked up on Saturday, but increased significantly Sunday night.
Also crediting the moisture, Young said, “There were zero fires related to fireworks.”
As the 7 p.m. to midnight patrol was nearing its end on Sunday, Young said, “We did have one injury.”
Young explained an individual had tried to throw a firework out of a moving car at some people, but the firework went off in his hand, causing a serious injury.
Hobbs City Manager Manny Gomez took his hat off to the city staff for collaboration efforts that he felt made the weekend a success.
“I think we did a good job of informing and educating the public, both before and during this long weekend,” Gomez said. “The rain was a blessing. We had no fireworks-related fires. That was an anomaly.
“In the many years that I’ve been with the City of Hobbs, this has been one of the better coordinated collaboration efforts with the PD and, also, the recreation department,” Gomez concluded.
Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb, recognizing some room for improvement, added, “I know there still were some neighborhoods where people were still popping their fireworks. I got a report that in some of our neighborhoods, it was way less and in some neighborhoods it didn’t change much. That kind of gives us an indication what we need to do.”
More of education of the public before future fireworks events, Cobb said, are in the plans, but so is finding additional locations for Safe Zones.
“Since it was the first year, a lot of people didn’t get the message of what they could do and what they couldn’t do,” Cobb said. “We worked at getting the message out, but it’s hard to get everybody fully informed. I think the more informed we get the public, we’ll probably be more aggressive on some of the enforcement.”
Police Chief Ortolano agreed, “The general public wants to see stricter enforcement and a greater number of citations and I believe that would be warranted based on certain areas where there was high non-compliance with the ordinance.”
Location of the city-sponsored Safe Zone where otherwise illegal fireworks could be ignited legally also concerned Cobb.
“Another thing we’re going to have some discussions about is the HIAP is a great location but it is inconvenient for a lot of people in the community,” the mayor continued. “So, we’re going to look around and see where there might be some other locations where it would be closer for people to walk to or drive to.”
Young estimated about 300 cars showed up at the HIAP Safe Zone on Sunday night and even three to five cars during the stormy Friday night. Safe Zone users on Saturday night were harder to count because many of the hundreds of cars at the HIAP contained people simply there to view the city’s fireworks.
“I think offering (the Safe Zone) to the residents kept a lot of that out of the residential neighborhoods. Don’t get me wrong, there was still quite a bit (in residential areas),” Young continued. “We did our patrol on the complaint side. Those that were called in are the ones we responded to.”
Lorenzo Velasquez, director of Lea County’s emergency and environment departments, also reported no fireworks-related fires, likely due to rain keeping the normally dry grasslands damp.