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Independence Day: Law enforcement officials, retailers urge safety and permit use when using fireworks

As Independence Day approaches and residents flock to fireworks stands, area law enforcement agencies and retailers are urging people to take appropriate safety measures.

Corey Williams, store manager of Jake’s Fireworks at 5505 W. Skelly Drive, said his top priority this holiday is encouraging customers to act responsibly when using its products.

“The main thing is just making sure they understand what the device is going to do,” said Williams, who explained that he and staff members describe how each product behaves when activated. “Whether it is a Roman candle or firecracker, the appropriate-aged people should be using them.”

Fireworks are illegal to use inside the Tulsa city limits, though most surrounding communities such as Bixby, Broken Arrow, Claremore, Jenks and Sand Springs do allow them with a permit.

Krista Flasch, Broken Arrow communications director, said the permit requirement has helped reduce the time in which people can set off fireworks during the holiday.

“An effort was started many years ago to control the window of time that people shot off fireworks,” Flasch said. “Before, people would shoot them off at all hours of the day, even weeks before the Fourth.”

Permits can be purchased online at or at City Hall until July 3.

Phil Reid, Broken Arrow fire chief, said around 40% of all fires that occur around the holiday are fireworks-related.

“Our permit system has really helped cut down on the discharge of fireworks,” Reid said. “I think it is one of the reasons why we cut down on firework usage.”

In Tulsa, said Officer Danny Bean with the Tulsa Police Department, it is a misdemeanor offense to shoot fireworks within the city limits.

Law enforcement officials will respond if a resident complains about a neighbor’s fireworks, Bean said. But it will ultimately be up to officers to determine whether a fine is levied or fireworks are confiscated.

Residents with permits should take precautions, such as always having adult supervision, water for potential fires and keeping a phone nearby to call 911 in case of an emergency, said Tulsa Fire Department spokesman Andy Little.

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Alexander Burn Center medical director stresses caution when handling fireworks

After seeing a significant increase in burn victims last year in the week following the Fourth of July, the medical director at Hillcrest’s Alexander Burn Center said she hopes people will be more careful while shooting off fireworks this year.

In 2018, the center, one of only two of its kind in the state, treated a total of 2,905 patients.

Medical director Tara Wilson, who also is a general surgeon, said 31 patients came in the week after Independence Day with hand burns that were all related to handling fireworks, including sparklers and fireworks that went off without warning.

The patients reported injuries ranging from minor burns to burns that required finger amputations, Wilson said.

“When your hands are burned, that impacts everything that you do every day,” Wilson said. “For young people, you lose a finger, and that impacts you for the rest of your life.”

But Wilson said she sees patients with firework injuries of all ages, not just young people.

“We like people to cherish their hands and not do stupid things,” she said.

On average, 280 people go to the emergency room in the month surrounding July 4 with injuries from fireworks, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Immediate first-aid for a burn includes removing the burning source, rinsing the affected area with lukewarm water and dressing the area with clean, dry bandages, Wilson said.

Wilson encourages people to not hesitate to come into the Alexander Burn Center for treatment, which has served burn victims for the past 50 years with services including treatment for minor to serious burns, rehabilitation and pain management.

The Alexander Burn Center is located at 1120 S. Utica Ave. and is open 24 hours a day every day.

“We’re open all the time, and so it’s appropriate to come here in the middle of the night if they need to,” Wilson said.

Wilson said she hopes “people will be more mindful of the risk and make better choices” this July 4.

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Annual 'point in time' homeless count: Having a job doesn't guarantee having a place to live in Tulsa

One out of five homeless people in Tulsa has a job, including nearly 100 people who suffered homelessness last year, despite having full-time employment, according to newly released data from the Community Service Council.

“This speaks to the need for affordable housing and livable wages,” said Rhené Ritter, program coordinator for A Way Home for Tulsa, a coalition of organizations working with the homeless. “The current rent cost for a two-bedroom in Tulsa would require an income of $16 an hour.”

More than 5,600 individuals experienced homelessness last year in Tulsa, according to the Community Service Council. On average, they needed 27 days to secure housing again, and 65% were homeless for the first time.

The homeless population is constantly evolving, as some people find housing while others lose it, officials said. But the overall size of Tulsa’s homeless population has remained relatively stable for several years, Ritter said. Officials counted 5,800 homeless individuals in 2017.

Homeless counts All Adults Children 
Emergency shelters659 583 76 
Unsheltered296 277 19 
Safe Haven
Transitional housing225 166 59 
Total homeless1,188 1,1034 288 

Source: Community Service Council

“This is happening across the country,” Ritter said.“However, we are seeing an increase in the unsheltered population for the second year in a row,” she said, referring to people who live on the streets rather than taking advantage of shelters. The number of “unsheltered homeless” grew nearly 31% in Tulsa last year, according to Community Service Council’s data.

On the bright side, the number of homeless veterans went down by 16%, reflecting the success of programs specifically focused on veterans, Ritter said.

“We’re continuing to build on our partnerships to have similar results across all homeless populations,” she said.

The numbers are based partly on a “point in time” census taken once a year, when officials spread out across Tulsa to literally count every homeless person they can find, visiting shelters, as wells searching alleys and underpasses. This year’s census was taken Jan. 24, when officials counted 1,188 homeless individuals, a 9.7% increase over the year before.

The city’s homeless population that night included 659 people in emergency shelters, 225 in transitional housing and 296 on the streets, according to the Community Service Council. The number of homeless children more than doubled from 131 in January 2018 to 288 this past January, including 19 children living on the streets.

While conducting the count, officials also take a survey to determine what needs the homeless have, beyond housing. This year, transportation topped the list, along with health care, dental care and food.

“This year, I noticed that the interactions with individuals facing homelessness was met with less resistance and appeared to feel more like a trusting conversation,” said Melanie Stewart-Goldman, LCSW, VA Homeless & CWT program manager and new chair for A Way Home for Tulsa. “I attribute this shift to the partnership with Night Light and to the rapport-building skills and consistency of the community outreach teams.”

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'Born to be a teacher': 20 Under 2 list recognizes McClure first-grade teacher as one of top novice teachers in Oklahoma

Jeremy Britt has been teaching only a couple years, but his success in the classroom already is being recognized.

Britt, a first-grade teacher at McClure Elementary, was sifting through his inbox in May when he spotted an email that caught him off guard. The message was from the Teaching and Leading Initiative of Oklahoma, and it claimed he’d been nominated for its 20 Under 2 list as one of the state’s top novice teachers.

Seeing as he had never heard of the organization or the list, Britt didn’t know how to respond.

But this was no hoax. The same principal who encouraged him to become emergency certified because she believed he was a natural teacher also ended up submitting his name for 20 Under 2, which celebrates high-performing educators at the start of their careers.

“It was definitely affirming that I was doing the right thing, that I belonged here,” Britt said.

Twenty novice teachers from across the state are featured in the Teaching and Leading Initiative of Oklahoma’s inaugural 20 Under 2 list. The Tulsa-based nonprofit was launched in 2018 through a start-up grant from the Walton Family Foundation in response to the teacher shortage and seeks to help school districts better support educators in their first and second year.

The idea for 20 Under 2 came from a perceived dearth of recognition for teachers entering the profession, especially those with emergency certification. In many districts, beginning teachers are unable to qualify for teacher of the year.

One of the main reasons teachers resign — outside of low pay — is due to inadequate support, said Joanna Lein, the organization’s executive director. One of five new teachers reportedly leave after their first year, while only about half remain after five years.

Although there’s no award system in place for now, Lein said the list is all about recognition.

“Often our teachers who are new are really undervalued because of their lack of experience,” she said, “so we wanted to highlight that new teachers are getting it done, and they’re getting it done well.”

The organization received nearly 200 nominations from Oklahoma schools of up-and-coming novice teachers after details about the 20 Under 2 list spread on social media. A committee then narrowed the list to 20 educators who had a measurable impact on student achievement.

Before starting his teaching career in the 2017-18 school year, Britt volunteered at McClure through the Reading Partners program. The experience made him realize how much he loved being in a classroom and helping students reach their potential.

McClure Principal Katy Jimenez, in need of filling a vacancy, approached him about becoming a teacher after recognizing his abilities. The opportunity allowed Jimenez to bolster her staff and Britt to live out a dream he had only just discovered.

“I absolutely love it,” Britt said. “It’s a great experience, just building relationships with the kids and working with them on setting their own goals and celebrating their success when they reach those goals.”

Jimenez said she nominated Britt for 20 Under 2 in part because she was amazed at how quickly he learned the intricacies of teaching and leading a classroom filled with kids compared to most emergency-certified teachers.

He’s progressed faster, she said, than some with traditional certification.

“I thought it was really spectacular that someone who came to us in a nontraditional way was able to be so successful just out of the training he had from Reading Partners and his sheer desire to serve children,” Jimenez said. “He was just born to be a teacher.”

The number of emergency-certified teachers in Oklahoma has skyrocketed in recent years. State public schools hired 3,038 nonaccredited teachers in 2018-19, a 54% increase from the previous year. The state education board on Thursday approved another 818 emergency certifications, including 180 for Tulsa Public Schools.

Jimenez believes Britt and others who are emergency certified will be instrumental in stabilizing classrooms at McClure, which has suffered from a high teacher turnover since before the shortage.

She said she appreciates the 20 Under 2 list for recognizing the work of novice teachers and motivating them to continue improving.

“I think it really changes the narrative of what it means to be a successful teacher,” Jimenez said. “It doesn’t have to come 30 years in when you have a long list of accomplishments. It just comes with who you are and who you have chosen to bring to the table as your authentic self.”

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