Volunteer fire departments sell fireworks as 4th of July events are canceled

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – As the Fourth of July holiday weekend inches closer, fireworks sales skyrocket. Officials told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais it’s because fireworks displays are canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Volunteer fire departments who are selling fireworks this year as fundraisers are seeing sales skyrocket as people have to make their own shows, which Johnson City Police say is the cause for a higher police presence over the holiday weekend.

“My level of concern is way higher than it normally would be if there was a fireworks event at Freedom Hall just because of the fact that people may decide to shoot their own fireworks and there’s a lot of safety issues involved in shooting fireworks,” Turner said. “The community has done a lot of work as far as getting out the message that fireworks are illegal, our officers have assisted in that as well, so we’ll have extra officers that will be working that night to answer any fireworks calls throughout the city.”

Turner added that this cause for concern has also sparked the need to enhance police presence in the city over the weekend.

“We get fireworks calls in many areas of the city so, we just have to have enough officers to answer those calls and try to prevent people from shooting fireworks because they’re illegal to own, posses or shoot inside the city limits,” he said.

Funding for volunteer fire departments is limited, so officials from several VFDs say this is the biggest fundraiser of the year, and the cancellation of community fireworks events due to the COVID-19 pandemic has helped business.

“This is the biggest we’ve had in years for the simple fact that nobody is shooting and everybody is shooting at home this year,” Scottie Wilson, Deputy Chief Hampton Valley Forge VFD told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

One event cancelled due to the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the region is the Hampton Valley Forge VFD’s own annual community cookout and fireworks display.

“Due to the virus and stuff going on we don’t want to because, you know, it’s on the rise now again, so we don’t want to kind of get all these groups together and then end up us being the ones that gives somebody a virus, we don’t want that.”

Though it might be strange for a fire department to sell fireworks, safety is a priority.

“We teach everybody safety on how to use the fireworks, how to place them, even on the packages, it tells you how to place it, where to place it, but we also educate them on that, where they need to be, because a lot of people come in here they don’t have a clue, you know, they’re afraid they’re going to set their trees on fire. We tell them which ones go high and which ones stay on the ground,” Wilson said. “We like the adults to do it and just kind of stay away from the house and vehicles and stuff because it does, it really takes one spark and then we’ll be fighting house fires and we don’t want that this year.”

Watauga volunteer firefighter John Grindstaff told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that his department also urges safety while enjoying fireworks.

“It’s been a really busy year to start out for the first week leading into the week of the fourth, we’re ahead of last year’s sales,” he said. “We have a safety list that we kind of go over with people, giving them some information on what to do and what not to do.”

Some of those safety tips include:

“Shoot the firework the way it’s intended to use, watch small children, always supervise them, be familiar with the surroundings where you’re shooting them at,” Grindstaff said.

As this sale is the biggest fundraiser for many VFDs in the region, Grindstaff implores the public to come out in support of them.

“We look forward to people coming out to buy their fireworks here and a lot of volunteer fire departments sell them so be sure to go to your volunteer fire department in your district and help support them,” he said.

Some volunteer fire departments selling fireworks include:

-Watauga VFD
-Central VFD
-Hampton Valley Forge VFD
-Elk Mills VFD
-Roan Mountain VFD
-Gray VFD
-Mosheim VFD

Continuing coverage of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

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