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Complaint could bring end to veteran's fireworks display in Brandon


Published:   |   Updated: July 1, 2013 at 09:38 AM

BRANDON - Ryan Segers lives for the Fourth of July, when he can let his patriotism shine by orchestrating a theatrical show of fireworks that lights up the evening sky over his Brandon neighborhood.

Since 2004, Segers has put on a show for family, friends and neighbors with $2,000 worth of rockets that burst as high as a 15-story building.

"It's Independence Day," said Segers, 36, who has served overseas with the Army in Kuwait and Iraq and now serves with the Florida Army National Guard. "It's for our country. It's to get everyone in the spirit. I'm very patriotic."

He's also flaunting laws that prohibit such displays without the proper permits. And a neighbor's complaint to him and to law enforcement - about the risk to people and pets and all the fireworks debris from last year's celebration - may bring an end to the show.

Neighborhoods all across Tampa are loud and smoky from the fireworks set off each July 4. Still, law enforcement officers typically don't investigate them - unless they witness the launch or someone files a complaint.

Then a process kicks into motion.

An officer has the complainant fill out a form requesting prosecution.

The officer takes photos and issues a notice to appear in court, or files the case with the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office for a determination.

How do you know whether your show is against the law?

"If it leaves the ground and explodes, it's considered illegal," said Debbie Carter, a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman.

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue doesn't investigate complaints but does respond if fireworks get out of hand and cause damage or injury, said Artie Taylor, a Fire Rescue fire inspector.

The fire department recommends that people visit public fireworks shows where professionals get permits, are regulated and can be shut down if not in compliance, Taylor said.

Leave it to the people who have been approved, said Nacole Revette, a Fire Rescue spokeswoman.

"If they are going to the public entity, you know you are going to be at a safe show," Revette said.

In Hillsborough County, you can try to apply for a fireworks display permit.

But it isn't easy.

An applicant must have a certificate of insurance for $1 million, hire a private security crew trained in "fire watch," and submit a diagram of the "display area."

There are broad requirements, too, on the distance between the ignition point and people or buildings so a big lot is a must.

Back in Brandon, Segers says his show is safe. He has fire extinguishers nearby and shoots the fireworks off at a safe distance.

"Fireworks displays celebrating the birth of our nation is as American as baseball and mom's apple pie," he said in an email. "Millions of Americans will participate in this long treasured American tradition."

It's a tradition his neighbors embrace for the most part, said Frazier Payton, who's one of them.

In the past, several neighbors have set off fireworks but Segers has taken it further, Payton said.

People gather in Segers' front yard or in their own yards to watch.

"It's not annoying," said Payton, who has lived in the neighborhood 15 years. "Some of it is loud, but it is pretty. It's basically what you would see at a fireworks show, just not as long and not as big."

Payton said he's sorry to see the neighborhood disagreement and doesn't want to choose sides. Still, he can't see the harm.

"I feel he has the right to do it, as far as I'm concerned. It's a neighborhood tradition. We've all been doing it for years."

As for Segers, just a few days before the holiday, he remained undecided.

But he hinted, anyway, that the show will go on.

jpatino@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7659

Twitter: @jpatinoTBO

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