Many people are confused about Florida's fireworks law and enforcement here in Cape Coral. So, let me take a few minutes to explain and clear things up for everyone.
Sparklers, fountains, glow worms, and snakes are legal. All the "fun" stuff (AKA the really dangerous stuff) is not. Any firework that explodes or leaves the ground is ILLEGAL. This includes, but is not limited to: firecrackers, M-80s, bottle rockets, roman candles, mortars, etc. . Let me repeat that:
If the fireworks you purchased for home use EXPLODE or LEAVE THE GROUND then it is ILLEGAL.
This is confusing for some. If these fireworks are illegal, why are they allowed to be sold? Those tents pop up all over town twice a year! Well, the answer is that there is a loophole in the law. You see, Florida is primarily an agricultural state and the loophole in the law is for the benefit of agricultural operations to scare off birds and other pest animals. When you purchase prohibited fireworks from these vendors, you are presented with a waiver that you must sign to complete your purchase. Now, I realize that many people don't READ the waiver, but all that legalese that most people skip over explains this. The waiver is YOUR certification that you are using these fireworks for agricultural purposes. The waiver protects the vendor, not the customer.
The fact of the matter is that they have ALWAYS been illegal (at least for the last 40 years). Every year, we respond to HUNDREDS of fireworks complaints around New Year's Eve and the Fourth of July. We hate them. The people who call in are annoyed, and rightly so. The noise keeps people awake, disturbs pets, and the debris litters yards. The person we end up talking to is annoyed because they just want to celebrate a holiday in a traditional way and the police are giving them a hard time. And the officers are annoyed because they will be going to 20 of these fireworks calls tonight instead of dealing with more pressing issues like DUI, burglary suppression, or taking a report for a citizen in need.
Are the fireworks law and noise ordinance enforced arbitrarily? That depends on who you ask. Since no one lives at a fish hatchery here in Cape Coral, our officers COULD issue citations and/or make arrests the first time they see a violation. The noise ordinance ticket will run you about $100 and the misdemeanor fireworks charge can run up to $1000 with a year in prison! Let's be real. Nobody wants us out there rounding up people for shooting off a bottle rocket. Also, since it is a misdemeanor, the officer must witness the violation occurring in order to make an arrest or issue a citation. A lot of times, we arrive AFTER the fireworks have gone off, or between volleys. Fortunately, our officers have the discretion to issue warnings and educate people as an alternative to citations or arrests. That is usually enough to get compliance and handle the complaint. If not, then we have the other tools at our disposal.
The fact of the matter is, there are way more people buying and shooting off fireworks than there are officers on the street. We get to the calls one at a time as fast as we can. If you've been setting off prohibited fireworks in the past and never got the police called on you, it wasn't because it was always ok before. It was simply because you got lucky.
I hope this clarifies any confusion anyone might have had.
Here is a link to a great article that summarizes the law and what it means for holiday fireworks fun:
About the author:
Lieutenant Dana Coston is a 20-year law enforcement veteran who is assigned to the Office of the Chief of Police. He is the Public Affairs Officer for the Cape Coral Police Department and oversees the Public Affairs Office, Community Outreach Program, Planning and Research Unit, and Victim Assistance Unit. He also serves as the Department's Webmaster and Social Media Manager, testing and evaluating platforms and technologies for use in the Cape Coral Police Department Social Media Program.
Lieutenant Coston previously served as a Patrol Officer, School Resource Officer, Detective assigned to the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, Patrol Sergeant, and Professional Standards Bureau Sergeant where he oversaw Personnel, Training, and Internal Affairs. He is an instructor for the Cape Coral Police Department in the areas of baton, firearms, and Media Relations, and has instructed all over SW Florida on gang identification and prevention, and the application of Social Media in Law Enforcement. He is a certified Gang Specialist, FBI Domestic Human Intelligence Collector, and was an adjunct instructor to the FBI Academy teaching human source recruitment.
Lieutenant Coston holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and History from Emory University. He is a member of the International Association of Law Enforcement Planners, the National Information Officers Association, the Florida Law Enforcement Public Information Officers Association, and the Florida public Relations Association.