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Officials warn fireworks can be dangerous for non-professionals

La PORTE COUNTY — You may not know it from the cacophony outside on some evenings, but it is illegal to shoot off fireworks in La Porte and Michigan City, at least for a few more days.

And calls for the “illegal” fireworks are keeping local police busy.

“As the weather gets warmer and the 4th of July gets closer, MCPD receives an overabundance of firework related calls for service,” according to Sgt. Francisco Rodriguez of the Michigan City Police Department.

“MCPD would like to remind everyone that fireworks can only be discharged by persons 18 years and older, and only during set dates and times outlined in city ordinance 54-231,” he said.

Inside the city’s corporate limits, fireworks can only be discharged:

From June 29-July 3 from 5 p.m. until 2 hours after sunset (about 11 p.m.)

July 4 from 10 a.m. to midnight

July 5-9 from 5 p.m. until 2 hours after sunset

From 10 a.m. on Dec. 31 until 1 a.m. Jan. 1

Anyone discharging fireworks outside of the set dates and times are subject to citations, and fines which range from $50 for a first offense and $100 for a second offense, to $250 for third and subsequent offenses.

Not only are violators subject to fines, but they can also be held responsible for damages and costs related to the use of fireworks.

According to the city ordinance, “Any person shall be liable for damage to person or property caused by the use or discharge of fireworks, and shall also be liable for costs of fire service by the Michigan City Fire Department ... or other emergency services necessitated by the use or discharge of fireworks.”

Michigan City isn’t the only area of the county seeing an abundance of fireworks use, especially after the cancellation of Independence Day fireworks shows in MC and La Porte.

After receiving numerous complaints, La Porte Mayor Tom Dermody is warning residents to abide by the city’s fireworks code as the 4th of July nears.

“With so many events being canceled this year, we know people are excited to find ways to celebrate the upcoming holiday on their own,” Dermody said.

“However, we must still be respectful of other residents. Shooting off fireworks until 1 a.m. and keeping neighbors up a week before the Fourth just isn’t acceptable, and our police department will ticket anyone who violates the fireworks ordinance.”

The city’s municipal code allows fireworks to be discharged:

June 28-July 3 from 5-11 p.m.

July 4 from 10 a.m.-midnight

July 5-9 from 5-11 p.m.

The penalty for a violation is a fine of $300.

“Fireworks are beautiful and a great way to celebrate the 4th of July,” Rodriguez said, “however; they can also be dangerous and a nuisance to your fellow neighbors and fur-neighbors.

“Please be kind to your fellow neighbors and strictly abide by the ordinances regulating the use of fireworks.”

Also warning of the dangers of fireworks is the National Fire Protection Association.

In a typical year, the NFPA encourages the public to only attend public fireworks displays put on by trained professionals, reflecting its’ long-standing position against consumer use of fireworks, according to Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy.

However, with public fireworks events around the country being canceled, NFPA is “vigorously discouraging individuals’ use of consumer fireworks, recognizing that the likelihood of such activities may increase in the absence of public displays,” she said.

“While fireworks are an emblem of July 4 celebrations, in the absence of public displays this year, we strongly encourage people to find safe and creative alternatives for celebrating the holiday.”

Carli said fireworks are too “dangerous and unpredictable” for consumers to use safely.

“Even sparklers, which are often considered harmless enough for children, burn as hot as 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit and can cause third-degree burns,” she said.

In addition to the harm fireworks can inflict on individuals, she said fireworks’ incidents place undue burdens on first responders and emergency room staff.

“First responders and our health care services have been working tirelessly to protect the public throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” Carli said.

“A great way for people to show their support is to avoid consumer use of fireworks and help minimize the number of avoidable incidents that require response and care.”

Fireworks started an estimated 19,500 fires in 2018, including 1,900 structure fires, 500 vehicle fires, and 17,100 outside and other fires. These fires caused five deaths, 46 civilian injuries, and $105 million in direct property damage, she said.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 9,100 non-occupational fireworks related injuries in 2018; burns accounted for 44 percent of the fireworks injuries seen in the month around July 4.

Half of the fireworks injuries seen at ERs were to extremities, particularly the hand, finger or leg. One-third were to the eye or other parts of the head.

Children ages 10-14 had the highest rate of fireworks injury, with more than one-third (36 percent) of the victims of fireworks injuries under age 15.

“Fireworks cause thousands of needless fires and injuries each year,” Carli said. “By simply choosing not to use consumer fireworks, these types of incidents can be easily prevented, lessening the strain on already overtaxed first responders and emergency room workers.”

– From staff reports

City of La Porte condemns two properties

La PORTE — The City of La Porte condemned two unsafe properties this week, according to Mayor Tom Dermody and Director of Code Enforcement Jeff Batchelor.

“The mayor has made it clear that this administration will not tolerate unsafe living conditions in La Porte’s rental properties,” Batchelor said. “Our fight is not with local landlords – it is with the dangerous conditions in their rental units. Our residents deserve a safe place to call home, and we will continue our efforts to ensure this is the case.”

Batchelor and Code Enforcement Officer Dan Drake inspected the rental properties at 207 Grove St. and 701 Maple Ave. and identified various safety and sanitation issues at each location, including construction and electrical problems, water damage and vermin infestation. Batchelor said he and Dermody are working hard to rid the city of dangerous living conditions like the ones found at these locations.

Dermody said the city is working with Center Township Trustee Lisa Pierzakowski to find temporary housing for tenants.

“Our hope is that the landlords will correct these issues and the tenants can return once units are fixed and cleaned,” Dermody said. “We need affordable housing in our city, but these conditions are unacceptable. We are creating a new standard for living in La Porte, and we expect all rental properties to meet that standard.”

The Grove Street property must be vacated within 60 days, and the Maple Avenue property must be vacated within 180 days. If all defects are remedied and the buildings passes City inspection, the units can be rented again.

LPCPL to begin hosting activities in new mobile classroom next month

MICHIGAN CITY — The La Porte County Public Library’s long-awaited Mobile STEAM Classroom has arrived and is ready for action.

Earlier this month, the vehicle – decked out with advanced STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) educational technology – arrived from its manufacturer in Colorado to the LPCPL’s Coolspring branch, where it will stay when not in use. Library educators will begin hosting workshops for children and teens inside the mobile classroom beginning next month, traveling to several locations across the county.

In addition to these activities, the library plans to coordinate with school districts across La Porte County to provide special STEAM lessons with third through eighth grade students, giving them a chance to receive some hands-on experience with technology they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

Finally, the LPCPL team will bring the mobile classroom to various events taking place throughout the region, such as September’s Sunflower Fair in La Porte, allowing the public to check out the plethora of advanced devices populating the vehicle.

The launch of the mobile classroom comes after several years of planning and development from LPCPL administrators, who were inspired by similar STEM-based programs in operation in other communities. The initiative was entirely funded through the community – donations through the Unity Foundation paid for the vehicle, while a grant from the Arconic Foundation covered the costs of the educational technology.

Although staff had initially expected the vehicle to arrive last summer, several supply-chain issues pushed its delivery back to this June.

The mobile classroom is chock full of advanced machinery and devices, intended to introduce students to the type of equipment used in many 21st-century industries. These tools include a laser cutter, digital microscopes, desktop milling machines and Dobot Magician robotic arms, which can be programmed to perform several different tasks.

The mobile classroom can fit up to 28 students at one time, containing seven 4-person workstations. At each desk is a small monitor that will mirror whatever is shown on the classroom’s main screen.

The van itself sports some nifty features, including a wheelchair lift for those with accessibility issues; an array of solar panels, which help reduce the vehicle’s power consumption; and an external monitor, which allows staff to provide instruction to students outside the vehicle.

The classroom also features an attractive paint job, with a vibrant color scheme and some decorative elements adding to its appeal.

“You feel like you want to get inside to check what’s going on,” said Pam Okosun, an LPCPL community engagement librarian who is working with the mobile classroom program. “It just draws you in.”

The mobile classroom program ties in nicely with another major project the library will begin next month – the transformation of the former La Porte telephone exchange building, located nearby the LPCPL’s main branch on Indiana Avenue.

The library plans to convert the building – which it has renamed the LPCPL Exchange – into a larger space for its existing MakerSpace, which offers a number of STEAM devices to local youth.

With the mobile classroom containing smaller versions of the equipment featured in the MakerSpace, library educators are hoping that students enjoy their lessons inside the vehicle will continue their journey inside the new building when it goes online next year.

“If you’re ready for more, come see us at the Exchange,” Okosun said.

Parents interested in signing up their children for upcoming mobile classroom activities can do so by visiting laporte.libnet.info/events. Slots will be limited due to allow for social distancing.

As COVID-19 cases rise, UFCW calls for more protection for frontline workers

INDIANAPOLIS — State health officials on Friday reported 510 more Hoosiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 9 more have died; and one of the state’s largest unions called on more safeguards for workers and customers.

That brings to 44,140 the total number of Indiana residents known to have the novel coronavirus, and raises the confirmed death toll to 2,403 Hoosiers, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. Another 192 probable deaths have been reported.

The total includes 510 cases and 25 deaths in La Porte County; 654 cases and 36 deaths in Porter County; 1,780 cases and 60 deaths in St. Joseph County; 4,650 cases and 238 deaths in Lake County; and 63 cases and 3 deaths in Starke County, according to the ISDH.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

To date, 453,890 test results have been reported to the state agency and 9.7 percent of those results have been positive for the coronavirus. There have been 6,976 tests reported in La Porte County.

Also Friday, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents 1.3 million workers – including more than 17,000 Indiana workers in groceries, meatpacking plants and other essential businesses – called on Gov. Eric Holcomb for action to protect workers and consumers.

UFCW reported that among its members, 238 frontline workers have died and nearly 29,000 workers have been infected or exposed in the first 100 days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Indiana COVID-19 cases continue to increase, UFCW is calling on Holcomb to work with business leaders to enact three policies to support and protect millions of frontline workers in Indiana:

Reinstate hazard pay and establish a $15 per hour wage for all frontline workers

Establish a mask mandate for all businesses and public gatherings

Create a public registry to track COVID-19 infections in frontline workers, which would require companies with more than 1,000 employees to submit monthly reports on worker deaths, infections and exposure

“With our country now 100 days into the COVID-19 pandemic, America’s frontline workers in Indiana and across the country still face many of the same dangers they faced on day one,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a statement.

“In grocery stores, meatpacking plants, and healthcare facilities, our country’s frontline workers are still getting sick and dying. It’s high time for America’s CEOs and elected leaders to pull their heads out of the sand and take the strong action needed to protect these brave workers and the communities they serve.”

Perrone said frontline workers “simply cannot survive with the current patchwork of safety measures that still leave so many unprotected and vulnerable. We need real enforcement of strong safety standards.

“Even worse, some of our nation’s biggest companies like Amazon, Walmart, and Kroger are still keeping us in the dark and refusing to tell the American people how many of their workers have died or been exposed to COVID-19.”

The union gave the following numbers for worker infections and deaths:

In grocery stores across the country, there have been at least 82 worker deaths and 11,507 workers infected or exposed

At meatpacking plants nationwide, there have been at least 65 worker deaths and 14,214 workers infected or exposed

In food processing facilities, there have been at least 28 worker deaths and 3,474 workers infected or exposed.

In healthcare facilities, at least 21 worker deaths have been reported, with 11,478 workers infected or exposed