Wisconsin Fireworks Sales, Enforcement Vary From County To County

Former Sheriff Claims He Lost His Job Trying To Shut Down Stands

By
Glen Moberg/WPR

What people can buy at Wisconsin fireworks stands varies from county to county, and even after they’re purchased, they may still be illegal without a permit.

According to state law, if fireworks go up in the air or explode, they are illegal unless people have a signed permit from a local government official stating when and where the fireworks can be used.

In Marathon County, Sheriff Scott Parks said his officers enforce that law against both users and sellers of explosive fireworks.

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“We do dispense patrol cars to investigate that type of activity, and if there are violations we either provide a warning or take enforcement action,” Parks said.

There are no stands selling explosive fireworks in Marathon County. But just north of the county line on I-39 there are three stands competing for customers who want the big stuff. Lincoln County Sheriff’s Lt. Tim Fischer said they have a right to be in business.

“In Lincoln County I can tell you there is no county ordinance governing fireworks at this time, which allows those stands to function,” Fischer said.

At Fireworks Depot, just across the county line, the shelves are stocked with skyrockets and multi-shot cakes with labels that read, “Warning: Shoots Flaming Balls.”

Manager Derrick Sukow said customers need to get signed permits from a town official before setting them off.

“Our priority is making sure everyone is safe and following the law.” Sukow said.

That’s not enough according to former Lincoln County Sheriff Paul Proulx.

“It’s a mockery,” Proulx said. “The law says, still says, if it moves across the ground or it leaves the ground, it’s illegal.”

In 2000, when Proulx was sheriff, he worked to shut down the stands that now operate in Lincoln County

“We set up a sting of sorts, and I had two deputies and a citizen go out there and make buys,” Proulx recalled. “I think we purchased about $100 worth of illegal fireworks, and then attempted to prosecute the individual.”

That fall, Proulx was defeated at the ballot box. He said his efforts to shut down the fireworks stands cost him his job as sheriff.

“They played on people’s thoughts, ‘He’s taking your rights away,’ that kind of thing. Never once did they mention the dangers of it,” Proulx said.

Seventeen years later, the department’s Fischer said the fireworks sold in Lincoln County are still not legal without a signed permit, and even then users may get a visit from police.

“They need to contact their town chairman or city government and obtain a permit,” Fischer said. “And understand that people like to sleep at night and if you’re lighting these off late at night, permit or not, law enforcement could be called.”

Sukow of Fireworks Depot said the reason there are multiple stands just across the line in Lincoln County is that it is a good location to do business because of the truck stop and holiday travelers.

“This intersection is a great hub. People have a lot to choose from,” Sukow said.

It could also be due to the different ways local law enforcement officials interpret state law.

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