Local, state fire officials expect increased injuries, fires with new Maine fireworks law

RUMFORD — Bob Chase and Richard E. Taylor are not looking forward to New Year's Day.

That's when Maine's new law makes it legal for people 21 and older to buy, sell, use and possess hundreds of currently illegal consumer fireworks.

Chase is Rumford's fire chief and Taylor is the state fire marshal senior planner in Augusta.

Both said Tuesday they expect increased injuries in children and fires caused by children using these fireworks, despite the minimum age limit.

“The law doesn't allow for kids to use fireworks, but we know that children don't adhere to the law,” Chase said.

“I just think it's inherently unsafe to put explosives in anybody's hands, especially for the point of recreation.”

He said these fireworks will be in people's homes, children will see their parents using them more readily when they're legal and curiosity will ensue.

“I think not only that injuries may occur to children as a result of fireworks, but one of my big concerns is it gives children a reason to have lighters and matches, which never leads to good things,” Chase said

Taylor agreed.

“We were just down in New Hampshire for a few days going around with the fire marshal's office and looking at fireworks stores and that's a common topic,” Taylor said.

“You look at the required labeling on a lot of these devices and it says things like, 'Use only under the supervision of an adult,' which implies, you know, that kids are going to use them. I am always puzzled by that.”

One possibly unrealized side effect of the new law concerns sparklers, a consumer firework that is commonly sold in Maine stores for children.

“Under this law, they wouldn't be allowed to use them now because you have to be 21,” Taylor said.

Chase and Taylor both speculated that when the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, it will be noisier than usual.

“I think there will be a ramp up as people begin to purchase them locally and in-state, or potentially bring them in from out of state,” Chase said.

“I think there is an inventory, but not a huge inventory, of illegal fireworks now, so I would expect that what is here illegally now is probably going to get used in short order, and then there will be a little bit of a ramp up as people start to acquire things.”

Because fireworks stores and fireworks are still illegal in Maine until Jan. 1 and will be afterward in towns that have adopted ordinances banning them, Taylor expects people to readily exercise the new freedom.

“I anticipate people will buy them in New Hampshire ... but they'll buy them because they're going to be legal and the clock strikes 12 and they might have some fun,” he said.

Taylor, the Fire Marshal's Office go-to guy for the new law, said entrepreneurs wanting to set up fireworks shops in Maine call him every day.

What Taylor doesn't have yet and won't offer is a list of fireworks soon to become legal. Instead, Taylor said they plan to do what other states have done and simply list what's not legal.

“The Fire Marshal's Office is really going to simply license the stores selling consumer fireworks,” he said.

“What we're proposing to prohibit for sale — it won't prohibit the use of them, but it will certainly prohibit the sale — are what we call missile-type rockets, helicopters and aerial spinners, skyrockets and bottle rockets."

The other thing is reloadable aerial shell kits.

Taylor said the law did exclude those from the definition of consumer fireworks.

“We're just making sure those aren't going to be sold by putting a prohibition in rule for those particular items,” he said.

"If it's really successful and employs a bunch of people, that'd be a good thing. While simultaneously we were able to keep any injuries or fires related to these devices from spiking in count, then that would be the ultimate success story.

"I mean, given the hand we're dealt, what I'm hoping to look forward to is that increased availability isn't going to mean increased injuries, but I have to be optimistic," Taylor said.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

RUMFORD — On Dec. 1 before selectmen, fire Chief Bob Chase proposed an ordinance to ban the sale and use of consumer fireworks.

Additionally, should voters defeat that, he proposed a second ordinance that requires prospective fireworks retailers to get local permits before opening stores.

That would allow fire, police and code enforcement to address any public safety issues with the new retail shops prior to opening.

However, Rumford's charter only allows ordinances to be adopted in June. So Chase asked selectmen to enact a moratorium until after town meeting in June.

But that won't happen until long after consumer fireworks and such shops become legal on Jan. 1, because selectmen will discuss the issues on Thursday, Dec. 15. And then public hearings on such a moratorium must be held before calling a special town meeting.

Selectmen may also have to discuss ramifications if the new fireworks freedom increases fires and injuries.

Due to budget constraints, the department has reduced manpower available.

"We're going to do our best and respond as best we can, but I guess the frustration on my part would be the state allowing fireworks at a time when public safety budgets are being cut," Chase said.

"And so, they continue to introduce hazards into our communities and I don't know what the best analogy is, but you're kind of killing us from both sides — it's reducing us in service and it's introducing new hazards that we'll have to battle at the same time."

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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Comments

 's picture

Perhaps we need a ban on bans

In this "land of the free" we have so many restrictions, that one needs to check the rules before breathing to assure that they are in compliance. Our town has enacted more ordinances on more issues over the past 20+ years than I can remember. Our ordinance book has grown from a few pages to a half inch thick book. Most of that is the government telling people how and where to build their houses and use their land. Some ordinances were enacted to block certain types of businesses. When do we so-called "free" citizens get to make our own decisions, and stop having the government make them for us??

I am not a big fan of fear-mongering, give me facts. If private use of fireworks has caused so many injuries, then show me the numbers. Without facts to substantiate your claims, they are just an opinion. It is unfortunate that people in positions of authority feel the need to use manipulative tactics in the press rather than being up-front with the public.

GARY SAVARD's picture

Very well said Glenn. I too

Very well said Glenn. I too feel that all of these community bans on fireworks are over the top. People use potentially dangerous things every day, like woodstoves, snowblowers, lawnmowers, chainsaws, ATV's etc. and yes, sometimes accidents happen and people get badly hurt or worse. Should we expect community leaders, in their apparent effort to save us all from ourselves, to ban these dangerous things as well?

 's picture

To be honest I'm a bit

To be honest I'm a bit disgusted by all the bans being put in place before the law has gone into effect.

Seriously what is wrong with allowing the use of fireworks? At the very least it could be tried on a trial basis to see if it will work

Then if there were fires and injuries (that everyone seems to think will be catastrophic) regulate them then.

There are plenty of states that have legalized fireworks and contrary to what the local,and state officials thought the injury rates have not increased dramatically.

I'm sick and tired of misinformed people making judgement calls without researching the issues. Oh and just as an aside, consumer fireworks are NOT explosives, when ignited they burn.

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