Opinion

Let Pierce County neighbors say ‘no’ to fireworks

From the Editorial Board

Do not try this at home. Pyrotechnician Gary Louderback surveys his palletized mortars on a barge in Seattle. He led the crew that designed and performed the fireworks show at Tacoma Freedom Fair in 2014. Professional shows like Freedom Fair are the best way to enjoy July 4, as even legal fireworks shot off from your home driveway come with inherent dangers.
Do not try this at home. Pyrotechnician Gary Louderback surveys his palletized mortars on a barge in Seattle. He led the crew that designed and performed the fireworks show at Tacoma Freedom Fair in 2014. Professional shows like Freedom Fair are the best way to enjoy July 4, as even legal fireworks shot off from your home driveway come with inherent dangers. News Tribune file photo

The best, most responsible way to enjoy the sizzle, pop and flash of fireworks on this Fourth of July holiday is by attending the Tacoma Freedom Fair or any number of small community festivals.

Leave the rocket’s red glare to the professionals.

Backyard and cul-de-sac displays are a bad idea, a surefire recipe for conflagration hazards, litter and noise pollution, busy emergency rooms and animal cruelty. The state fire marshal’s office reported 241 people were injured by fireworks in 2015, an increase of 11 percent, while 240 reported fireworks-related fires caused $627,080 in property loss.

Fire crews in Yakima County were working Monday to control a 350-plus-acre brush fire that led to the evacuation of more than 100 people over the weekend. Officials have identified fireworks as the ignition source.

Blowing up personal pyrotechnics might feel patriotic this time of year, but it represents an upraised middle finger to neighbors, police and firefighters in the four South Sound municipalities that ban them (Tacoma, Ruston, Steilacoom, Fircrest).

Meanwhile, freelance fireworks exhibitions are no less harmful inside the other cities and towns and in unincorporated Pierce County where they remain legal.

“4 nights of sleep deprivation begins now,” East Pierce Fire Chief Bud Backer tweeted Saturday.

The Pierce County Council wasted an opportunity last year to take a firm stand for safer-and-saner fireworks rules. A proposed ordinance would have cut in half the number of days for firework stand operations and limited legal discharges to July 4, down from the current eight-day window.

Instead, council members approved a watered-down version that, under state law, will go into effect in 2018. It shortens the sales period by just one day (July 5) and retains legal ignition days on the first four days of July, while eliminating the three currently allowed discharge days in late June.

Oh, and the allowed daily time period will be curtailed by one hour. No more setting off fireworks from 9 to 10 a.m. — as if breakfast-time blasts are the most serious cause of neighborhood distress.

Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg, who proposed the stricter ordinance, was disappointed by the timid version that passed. She was heartened, however, by talk of the council coming back later and possibly turning fireworks violations into a civil offense — like a parking ticket, instead of the misdemeanor criminal offense it is today. That way, sheriff’s deputies could hand out citations on the spot.

But nobody should expect this would bring relief to shellshocked county residents any more than it has for Tacomans over the last decade, since the City Council adopted a civil fine of $257. Historically, only a tiny fraction of Tacoma scofflaws feel the sting; last year, violators got off especially easy, as Tacoma police received 630 fireworks complaints and issued only four citations.

One fresh idea that’s worth considering was adopted by the Snohomish County Council last year. It allows neighbors in unincorporated areas to petition the county for no-fireworks zones.

Pierce County already takes a similar approach with hunting; citizens can ask the county to create, expand or reduce no-shooting zones that include their property.

Empowering people to address fireworks concerns, across limited boundaries with the support of neighbors, seems like the least our county’s elected leaders could do.

Some misguided Americans will never be deterred from celebrating Independence Day with an arsenal of personal munitions. But perhaps if more official neighborhood pressure is brought to bear, they’ll think twice before lighting that fuse.

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