CHARLESTOWN — Faced with a growing number of complaints about fireworks, the Charlestown Police Department is embarking on a public education campaign to explain Rhode Island's fireworks regulations.
"There are several reasons for this effort, but safety remains our primary concern," Charlestown Police Chief Michael Paliotta said.
Police across the region said that changes over the years have led to an increase in the presence of both legal, non-aerial fireworks and illegal fireworks.
The Office of the Rhode Island Fire Marshal says that the only legal fireworks are ground-based devices and sparklers. The ground or hand-held devices produce a shower of colored sparks, or smoke, or may feature a colored flame, a crackling sound or whistle.
"These devices do not rise into the air, do not fire inserts or projectiles into the air, and do not explode or produce a report," according to a fact sheet provided by the fire marshal.
Aerial displays are allowed in Rhode Island but are highly regulated, requiring permits from the local or state fire marshal, and proof that the launch location is safe. Such displays can be done only in the presence of a licensed fireworks technician. Displays also regularly require insurance, officials said.
Each summer, Paliotta said, his department receives increased fireworks complaints, usually beginning in early June and continuing through the end of August. Westerly police have also reported "significant increases" in the number of illegal fireworks complaints in recent years.
For beach communities, Paliotta said, the challenge begins with many out-of-state visitors, or property owners who bring fireworks with them from states where they're legal.
"Often the large open areas along the coastline are enticing locations for people to launch large aerial mortar-style projectile fireworks that detonate in the air," he said. "These specific types of fireworks are prohibited due to the heightened danger of personal injury, fire and noise disruption they pose to the the community."
Under Rhode Island law, illegal fireworks are seized and turned over to the fire marshal's office as evidence. Sale, use or possession of illegal fireworks is considered a misdemeanor when the amount is less than $500; above that amount, the offense is a felony. Penalties are a fine of up to $500 for a misdemeanor, and up to $1,000 for a felony. Maximum prison time is one year.
Paliotta said his department does not want to spoil anyone's fun, but would add extra patrols as necessary to enforce the law.
The department began its educational campaign in mid-May with postings on its website and social media, and a printed flyer. The department is also working closely with several neighborhood association representatives and plans to partner with the associations to improve community compliance, Paliotta said.
"We intend to investigate fireworks complaints aggressively and will be adding additional patrols in the coming weeks to specifically seek out violators and respond to these types of calls for service," Paliotta said. "Our police personnel have been informed to use officer discretion on handling these calls for service, and that public education on this topic is the primary goal in an attempt to reduce future violations."
For more information on fireworks safety and state restrictions can be found online at fire-marshal.ri.gov/safety/fireworks.php or at the Charlestown Police Department website at charlestownpolice.org/Fireworks%20Information//index.php.