Bonney Lake fireworks ban debate | Week 2

Firework news

Editor’s note:

Each year since the early 2000s, the issue of banning fireworks inside the Bonney Lake city limits has come before the City Council.

This year the unusually dry weather and increased danger of brush and wildfires has raised the discussion to more than just a spark and fizzle.

A town hall meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Justice and Municipal Building, where residents will have the opportunity to discuss whether or not the city should enact a fireworks ban.

Courier-Herald reporter Ray Still has organized an in-paper debate on the question of whether Bonney Lake should or should not ban fireworks. The three debate participants are Justin Evans and David Baus, Bonney Lake residents running for Council Position No. 2, and Karen Gower, public relations district director with TNT Fireworks.

For this issue, Evans, Baus and Gower will rebut statements made in last week’s issue when each debater answered why, or why shouldn’t, Bonney Lake enact a fireworks ban.

The final debate will be published in the Sept. 23 issue.

The Courier-Herald encourages our readers to participate in this debate by sending questions and comments to Ray Still, rstill@courierherald.com. Questions and comments may also be posted to the debates online.

PRO-BAN

Justin Evans, Bonney Lake resident

I believe what’s best for the people of Bonney Lake are to have those living in the community deciding. Being a resident of Tacoma and an employee of TNT Fireworks, Ms. Gower’s conflict of interest in this matter is blatantly obvious. There are some really passionate people living in this community, many of whom have been great allies with this topic and thousands of other residents for whom I represent in this debate.

I know there may be some “Facts about Fireworks” that Ms. Gower is going to present. She’ll likely state that:

“Fireworks bans don’t work. Though some jurisdictions may claim they do,…many banned areas have actually had increases in those numbers.”

I’m glad Ms. Gower brought up the Lacey ban, ordinance 9.20.020–9.20.046. Fire Prevention Specialist Terry Davis for the city of Lacey said, “I endorse the ban on fireworks because as a firefighter and now a fire prevention specialist, I have seen the unwarranted damage people can do when the discharge of fireworks is still legal” and that “the original incidents” that were cited by Ms. Gower “seem to have died down” in the years since their initial passage, in an e-mail dated August 24th 2015.

Fireworks ban do work and serve their purpose of reducing injuries and property loss. Here are some thoughts regarding the efficacy of fireworks bans by Washington officials whose communities have implemented bans:

• Fire Chief Lee A. Soptich, Eastside Fire and Rescue: “Issaquah’s ban is 20 plus years old. Carnations ban is 15 plus. Sammamish is probably 10. I think all came after a tragedy (homes burned) and there was public calling for something to be done. Each were war zones prior to bans. Issaquah had no fireworks calls this year. Carnation had a couple. Sammamish still has a dozen or so. Bans work”.

• Lacey Police Department Commander Joe Upton: “Since the ban was enacted, we have seen no increase in incidents, fires, or other problems related to fireworks. In fact, just the opposite has proven true.”

• Spokane Fire Marshal Lisa Jones: “Fireworks-related fires, injuries, and nuisance calls…have been substantially reduced.”

In 2014, Consumer Product Safety Commission staff conducted a nationwide study on fireworks injuries from June 20, through July 20. Here are their results:

• 230 people on average went to the emergency room everyday;

• nine people died due to fireworks-related incidents. In at least two incidents, the victims were not the users;

• Hands and fingers made up 36 percent of all injuries and more than 50 percent of all reported injuries were burns;

• 9 percent of firework related injuries occurred on children aged 0-4, 15 percent aged 5-9, and 11 percent aged 10-14.

That’s 35 percent of injuries occurring in kids younger than 14.

Why isn’t this alarming to people? As a father of a 2-year-old daughter, I can’t imagine what I would do if someone’s irresponsibility resulted in an injury to her.

In July of this year, CNN did a report on “Military with PTSD” discussing combat veterans and fireworks. The department of Veteran Affairs estimates 11-20 percent of military members serving in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. The loud blasts resemble gunfire and other battleground noises and can trigger panic attacks and other stress responses, according to the Veterans Health Administration. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 1,426 veterans living in Bonney Lake. Having been a son of a Vietnam veteran with PTSD, I’ve seen firsthand the results of what PTSD can do.

Justin Evans has lived in Bonney Lake four years. Evans works in the manufacturing industry and is currently running for Bonney Lake City Council Position 2.

ANTI-BAN

David Baus, Bonney Lake resident

Banning fireworks because of safety concerns resulting from an unusually dry season are a necessity that should be managed at the state/ county level. The county issued burn bans when the public is at risk. This year when I walked through my neighborhood on the Fourth; I saw water buckets, lawns were watered and there were several fire extinguishers ready for use.

This is simply people taking personal responsibility for keeping the neighborhood/community safe. One would hope this scenario was playing out everywhere throughout the city of Bonney Lake.

I would like to address Mr. Evan’s comments from The Consumer Product Safety Commission; “estimates in 2014, about 10,500 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries associated with fireworks in the period (June 20-July 20)”: Accidents unfortunately do happen, but were there contributing factors such as:

1) Were they using illegal fireworks?

2) If children were involved, were they properly supervised?

I believe we are all tired of a few “bad apples” spoiling it for the rest of the people who are gathering together and celebrating the Fourth safely. If I make a poor decision and hold my firecracker too long and end up in the emergency room, it should not impact the rest of the community as it was due to my carelessness.

Per the Bonney Lake Municipal code:

5.14.110 Sale and discharge of fireworks.

C. It is unlawful for a person to ignite, discharge, use or explode any consumer fireworks except between the hours of 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. on July 3 and on July 5; between 9 a.m. and midnight on July 4; and between 6 p.m. on Dec. 31 and 1 a.m. on Jan. 1.

I would support fireworks only on July 4 and December 31 through Jan. 1, in part due to the stress that many pets suffer during this time, but we all need to remember these are holidays that result in bringing families and communities together thus making us a stronger community.

Karen brings up another valid point: “Some might think that a ban would solve all the problems but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Just to name a couple, the year before Lacey banned consumer fireworks they had six fires, the next year with a ban they had 15, then six, then 33 fires with a ban. Tacoma has a ban and it is like a war zone there. Their newspaper reported this year 45 fires in spite of a total ban. The typical prohibition mentality takes over.”

I choose to think the residents of Bonney Lake are a well-rounded group of people, we are aware of our surroundings, environmental conditions, and have a general understanding of public safety. A ban is simply taking away our rights to celebrate the Fourth in a way that we all grew up celebrating. I personally feel our community doesn’t need protection against ourselves. Bonney Lake currently has firework discharge laws in place. According to Bonney Lake Police Department no citations have been issued over the past five years. Let’s focus on our kids and keeping holidays like the Fourth an event, which brings families together.

Fireworks, barbecues, picnics, neighborhood gatherings, and family reunions are a celebration of our independence. That’s the way I was raised and common sense should prevail.

Dave Baus is currently the president of his homeowners association and is running for Bonney Lake City Council Position No. 2.

ANTI-BAN

Karen Gower, TNT public relations

I have many years experience with the non-profits that sell state-legal fireworks and my participation as a member with the State Fire Marshal’s Office Fireworks Technical Advisory Group meetings throughout the year.

This gives me access to many facts and experiences that my pro-ban contributor may question but actually after reading his bio, I assume he is an expert on manufacturing and after 45 years I am an expert on fireworks. And facts are on the no ban side and facts don’t lie. Bans don’t work. To use Lacey as an example, the year before their ban they had six fires, the year after the ban went into effect 19 fires, then six fires, then the next year increasing to 33 with a ban. Tacoma has a ban – 45 fires this fourth of July season according to the Tribune. These are not my opinions – these are reported facts. Talk to the people that live in banned cities. There are tons of illegal fireworks everywhere. Three cities have recently changed their ordinances back from bans to allowing the sale and use of state-legal fireworks. City of Duval, city of Edgewood and city of Othello, and there will probably be more in the near future.

I appreciate the fact that the pro-ban contributor acknowledged the many problems with a total ban: (these are his statements)

• “A total personal use ban would make for difficulty in enforcement without doubt. It would put a burden on our law enforcement officers and would likely require an increase in patrols during the high usage times.” (I ask does the city have extra money to hire a large number of law enforcement officers?)

• “Being honest about the possibilities of a ban, there are some negative effects to a total ban as well. This involves the fundraising efforts of some local firework stands and local schools and church groups who take a percentage of the profit of sales on the stands they run. That is an unfortunate consequence of a ban…” (I say, this takes thousands of dollars away from the local non-profits that put it back in the community and hands it right over to the reservations and other cities …taking away from the Bonney Lake community)

• “The reality is that there will always be those who still decide to break the law as it already exists within the city limits.” ( I say, yes, that is true in every city.)

• “I do believe that a ban of personal fireworks would require some action on the part of our city to provide an alternate event to celebrate… fireworks display over Lake Tapps or at the football field.”( I ask do you know how many thousands of dollars that would cost the city? Probably a minimum of $20,000. It is not that easy. You must have licensed pyros, licenses, permits, insurance, crowd control officers, parking, portable toilets, etc. Fireworks displays are fabulous if you can afford them, and then, like Tacoma and Federal Way and Seattle, etc. etc., the neighborhoods are still full of illegal fireworks.)

It is clear that the best thing for Bonney Lake is to truly and aggressively enforce the current ordinance and arrest those that use already illegal fireworks. Let the families continue their safe and sane traditional celebration and the wonderful neighborhood block parties that many enjoy. If you were to ban state legal fireworks, it would be legal to burn the flag and illegal to burn a sparkler. That’s sick.

Keep legal state- approved fireworks legal and illegal fireworks illegal.

Karen Gower has worked with non-profit organizations that sell legal state-approved consumer fireworks for 45 years. She is also on the Fireworks Technical Advisory Group with the state fire marshal and other fire officials across the state who meet frequently for safety and education.