Iowa agencies urge safety precautions over July 4 weekend

Planning to celebrate the 4th of July with a few drinks, fireworks and boating? State and local law enforcement agencies are encouraging Iowans to keep these activities separate and offering tips on how to stay safe while on vacation.

“It will be a busy holiday weekend. There will be a lot of people visiting family, visiting friends and having a good time on July 4 and celebrating this weekend,” said Sgt. . Alex Dinkla of the Iowa State Patrol said. “We can’t stress enough that if people choose to go out, make good choices, make sensible choices and at the end of the day we want you to be safe while you get to your destination and that you come back.”

USA Today reported in 2020 that approximately 15,600 people in the United States were hospitalized for fireworks-related injuries alone – the highest number in the past 15 years, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. . Of these injuries, 66% occurred between June 21, 2020 and July 21, 2020.

Fireworks aren’t the only danger posed around the July 4 holiday – and state and local law enforcement want the public to be aware of the potential risks and to keep a safety plan in place.

Here are some safety issues to watch out for and what officials say you should do to stay safe over the weekend.

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People watch the fireworks go off over Adventureland Park to celebrate Independence Day on Saturday July 3, 2021 in Altoona.

Practice boat water safety

The sparkling water of one of Iowa’s lakes and rivers may seem like an inviting place to celebrate the 4th of July — but a lot can go wrong on the water, according to nautical education coordinator Susan Stocker of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

“A lot of things could be avoided if we educate our people and just take the time to be safety conscious,” Stocker said.

Preliminary data from the Iowa Department of Public Health showed two accidental drowning deaths in the state in 2021. The department reported 27 accidental drowning deaths in 2020.

One way to prevent boating accidents is to take a boater education course, according to Stocker. Boating training is required for Iowans between the ages of 12 and 17 who intend to operate a motorboat. The course is not compulsory for adults, although Stocker strongly recommends it to everyone.

“It’s a great idea for adults to take it because first of all the insurance companies will give you a reduced rate on your insurance for your boat,” Stocker said. “And it also allows you to be more proactive, even if someone’s been sailing their whole life. It allows you to be more proactive and pay attention to people who don’t have as much experience as you do.”

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Stocker stressed the importance of looking around and being aware of your surroundings while boating.

“An example might be, after we’ve had a rain and there’s more water, then you’ll have debris sinking in the water,” Stocker said. “You can see just a small stick in the water, but it could be tied to a tree 30ft below the surface which could potentially cause damage.”

A common mistake Stocker has seen is boats riding too close to other boats. Boaters are urged to maintain a distance of 100 feet between boats and to watch out for water skiers riding behind boats.

Boats must be equipped with a life jacket for each person, kept in an easily accessible place in case of emergency. Not only is it a life-saving measure, but it helps rescuers find people in an emergency, according to Capt. Tristan Johnson of the Johnston-Grimes Metropolitan Fire Department.

“The number one thing to be safe on the water is to wear a life jacket,” Johnson said. “If people are wearing a life jacket, there’s a better chance that we can find them. If not, it becomes much more difficult.”

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A water patrol will be on Iowa's waterways this weekend to keep boaters safe while celebrating the 4th of July.

It’s important for boaters to have a phone in case of an emergency, Johnson said, and know what part of the lake or river they are in.

“We often get calls and they don’t know where they are and it takes us a long time to find them,” Johnson said. “Like right now there aren’t many boats, but when there are it becomes a lot more difficult. So just maintain a plan and a way to call if anything happens.”

And just like driving, stay sober or get pulled over. In 2011, Iowa reduced the blood alcohol level for boating while intoxicated from 0.10 to 0.08, the same as driving a vehicle while intoxicated, according to the Department. of Iowa’s natural resources.

“Alcohol reduces your reaction time and reduces your ability to see other boats,” Stocker said. “And what people don’t realize is that unlike driving a car, wind, sun and environmental elements all play a role and enhance the effects of alcohol. So let alcohol at home.”

The nautical patrol will be in force this weekend to ensure the safety of boaters while celebrating the holidays.

Stay alive, never drink and drive

For Iowans planning to celebrate the 4th of July with a few drinks, law enforcement has a message: stay off the roads.

“If you choose to drink, don’t drive. We try to emphasize that,” Dinkla said. “Find that sober driver, find that designated driver. At the end of the day, we want you to be safe when you go to and from your destination and we don’t want you to be a hazard or create any accidents or deaths. additional that we are seeing on our roads.”

According to the Iowa Department of Transportation, five people died in traffic crashes over the July 4 holiday weekend in 2020, four of which were due to alcohol impairment.

Law enforcement agencies across the state will participate in the nationwide Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign July 2-5, according to the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

Traffic cruises along the westbound lane of I-235 in the late afternoon in Des Moines on Wednesday, May 18, 2022.

Drunk driving is not the only road safety problem. Of the 147 people who have died on Iowa roads so far this year, 48% of those people were not wearing seatbelts, according to Dinkla.

“We can’t stress that enough,” Dinkla said. “These 48%, if they had fastened their seat belt, there is a greater chance that they would not have been killed or even injured in an accident.”

The Iowa State Patrol has also seen an increase in what they call “blatant” speeds – drivers traveling over 100 miles per hour. The pandemic seemed to exacerbate the problem, as people felt comfortable traveling at higher speeds when there were fewer cars on the road, according to Dinkla.

“The dangers are increased and the ability to survive an accident is greatly reduced when traveling at this type of speed,” Dinkla said. “So we can’t stress enough, please obey the speed limit, wear that seatbelt and find that designated driver.”

Outdoor security and fireworks

Iowans traveling to nearby Lake Saylorville to celebrate July 4 must leave their fireworks at home, according to federal authorities.

“The Saylorville Reservoir is federal property, and there are no explosives and fireworks and things like that allowed on federal property,” said Greg Hand, a U.S. Army Corps ranger. of Engineers. “So anywhere in any of our everyday use campgrounds and things like that, parking lots, boat ramps, anywhere around the property, you can’t owning fireworks, and we’d like people to be aware of that.”

In the most recent data available, the Iowa Department of Public Health recorded 167 cases of fireworks-related injuries resulting in ER visits in 2020. In 2019, 127 fireworks-related ER visits fireworks were reported, down slightly from 143 in 2018 and 159 in 2017, the year Iowa’s longstanding ban on retail fireworks sales was lifted.

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Still, those numbers were considerably higher than reported fireworks-related ER visits from 2009 to 2016, which remained in the double digits and ranged from 38 to 86 incidents each year.

“It’s something we take very seriously,” Hand said. “No one wants to go to court and have a citation or something like that. And it’s also a matter of safety. The fireworks are very dangerous. It’s going to be a busy weekend already, so if we can leaving the fireworks at home would be awesome.”

People watch the fireworks go off over Adventureland Park to celebrate Independence Day on Saturday July 3, 2021 in Altoona.

Thermal safety

Fireworks aside, spending long periods outdoors can be risky as temperatures in Iowa hover around the 90s.

“Always drink plenty of water,” said Angie Jansen, conservation officer with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “I know people like to get out on the water and have drinks and stuff like that, but make sure they’re drinking plenty of water.

“When you’re out there and the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, you’re going to get dehydrated a lot faster,” Jensen said.

Grace Altenhofen is a reporter for the Des Moines Register. She can be reached at or on Twitter @gracealtenhofen.

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Susan W. Lloyd