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Don't Call 911 To Report Illegal Fireworks, Police Say

Fireworks over Lake Union
John Froschauer
The Associated Press file
Police say public fireworks displays, like this one over Seattle's Lake Union, are a good alternative to setting off illegal fireworks.

It’s illegal to set off fireworks in Tacoma, Seattle and most other cities in the region. But, every 4th of July, so many people ignore the law there’s little police can do. They say calling 911 about violations just overwhelms the emergency system.

Despite the super dry weather conditions and concerns about illegal fireworks starting fires, Seattle and Tacoma police are repeating what they say every year. Don't call 911 to report violators.

"If it's a fireworks complaint, we prefer that they call the non emergency number," said Officer Loretta Cool, with the Tacoma Police Department.

The Tacoma non-emergency number is 253-798-4721.

Officer Cool says the 911 lines simply can't handle all the calls.

In Seattle, the message is the same. This is posted on the Seattle Police Department website:

"On the 4th of July, 911 centers become overloaded with non-emergency fireworks calls. DO NOT call 911 unless you have a life-threatening emergency and need immediate help from police, fire or medics. Unnecessary 911 calls block people with real emergencies from reaching 911 and getting help."

Instead, you're encouraged to call the non-emergency number,  206-625-5011.

Police insist this doesn't mean complaints won't be investigated. Tacoma Police officer Cool says there will be extra diligence this year.

"Due to the dry weather, I think there will be a zero tolerance and it’s important that people understand that,” Cool said.

She says people can be fined $257 for violations and, in some cases, arrested for possessing explosives.

"We hope people will use common sense," said Officer Cool.

In Seattle, according to the Police Department website, "Fireworks offenses are punishable by up to 1 year in jail and/or a $5000 fine."

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.