GREENWOOD — “For the last three weeks, dispatch on Friday and Saturday nights has just been flooded with fireworks calls,” Greenwood Fire Chief Al Curtis Jr. told selectmen last week. “Especially now that we’ve got two stores within four or five miles of us.”
And, as fire chief, he gets three or four calls Thursday nights and through the weekend.
The sale and use of consumer fireworks became legal in Maine on Jan. 1, except in municipalities that have opted to ban one or both activities. Soon after, officials in most towns began hearing complaints from their residents.
The legislation legalizing fireworks was accompanied by new laws governing their use, including the rule that they not be set off after 10 in the evening. But that rule, like others regarding fireworks, is being widely flouted.
In Greenwood, Town Manager Kim Sparks told the selectmen that fireworks are being set off “all hours and any day of the week. It used to be that you’d hear them on Friday and Saturday, and people were OK with that.”
And it’s not only people who are affected by the noise, she said.
On those nights, Sparks said, one resident “would put her horse in the barn, because she knew they were going to go off, but now she never knows.”
Selectman Amy Chapman noted that dogs and cats are sensitive to such noise.
“Pets have been known to run away, miles away, if they get spooked by them,” he said.
The lack of enforcement for the fireworks laws is also a frustration for town officials.
“We’ve been told the Sheriff’s Department won’t enforce anything unless we have a town ordinance,” Selectman Arnie Jordan.
Curtis noted there was already the state’s law prohibiting their use after 10 p.m.
“So why can’t the Sheriff’s Department enforce that?” Jordan asked.
“Probably they’re too darn busy,” Sparks said.
And it’s not just the curfew that’s not being enforced, Curtis said. “The laws also requires that they be used only on your private property.” On rental properties, including summer rentals, “you’ve got to have written landowner permission to set them off.”
And there are setback requirements for the use of fireworks, he said, based on diameter of the firecracker tube. “So if you’ve got the 3-inch mortars they’re selling, you’ve got to have 210 feet. The only guy allowed in that area is the guy who’s setting them off. But you know as well as I do that they're shooting them off on their back lawns, in their driveways, the back of their pickups.
“By law the state cops and county cops can go in and confiscate any [fireworks] that are on the property,” he said. “Are they doing it? No. They’re too busy with the drunk drivers and speeders to worry about noise complaints.”
Firecracker stores are also required to post these laws, he said, “But the stores aren’t displaying the laws like they are supposed to do.”
Curtis said he and Woodstock Fire Chief Goeff Inman have been talking about the problem with the state Fire Marshal’s Office.
“We’re going to set up a thing with NOMA, Norther Oxford County Mutual Aid, and plan a conference, to include media, on the safety aspects of it, and the laws,” he said.