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No more ‘pop’ on Fourth of July?

Officially, fireworks will begin flying one month from today.?

But unofficially, leading up to the frenzied 12-hour window in which the discharge of some fireworks is legal on Bainbridge, it’s a safe bet that some islanders will let off a practice round or two – indeed, some already have.

“I heard some this weekend,” Councilwoman Hilary Franz said Monday. Franz chairs the council’s Community Relations Committee, which has been tasked with reviewing city’s fireworks ordinance.

This year, laws regarding fireworks are the same as they were last year: the use of tamer celebratory devices – like sparklers, ground spinners and fountains – is allowed between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. on the Fourth of July (and from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. on New Year’s Eve), with violators subject to fines. ?

But as the holiday nears, leaders – led by the CRC, which discussed the issue for the second time Monday – are mulling the possibility of a fireworks ban for future years.

Specifics changes are far from complete. By law, a ban can’t take effect until 12 months after its passage, meaning such a change wouldn’t come until next year at the earliest.

Other options include tweaking the existing ordinance to make it more or less restrictive.?

Officials say safety and easier enforcement is the main impetus behind the discussion.?

Last year, while no fireworks-related injuries were reported on the island, there were three documented fires linked to fireworks, Bainbridge Fire Marshal Jared Moravec said. Meanwhile, Police Chief Matt Haney said his department receives hundreds of fireworks complaints each year.

Neither Moravec nor Haney is sure whether a ban would help reduce fireworks-related problems.? ?

Part of their research will include the impacts of bans elsewhere. Fireworks regulation is largely governed by the state, though local jurisdictions do have some latitude. About half of Washington jurisdictions have banned fireworks; the rest restrict their sale and use. Rules on Bainbridge are on par with the rest of the county, though Poulsbo’s restrictions are more lax than most, allowing sales and discharge of fireworks beginning in late June.

In addition to restricting discharge times, another option would be to clamp down on sales.

Only one stand – in the Ace Hardware parking lot – sells legal fireworks on the island. To receive permits, fireworks stands must adhere to strict rules and can only operate for a few days near the Fourth.

Across the bridge, stands sell some fireworks that are illegal to possess on the island, including firecrackers and bottle rockets. Other devices, like M-80s and cherry bombs, are illegal statewide to possess no matter where they’re sold or discharged. ?

A full list of legal and illegal fireworks is available at the Washington State Patrol website.??

Leaders agreed education should be part of whatever plan is pushed ahead, especially since many people underestimate the potential dangers associated with fireworks.

Statewide, fireworks-related injuries and/or fires were up 6 percent in 2007 – to 1,059 – according to the National Fire Incident Reporting System. Of the reports received, 899 were fires; 160 were injuries.

Combined, those incidents resulted in $21.5 million in property loss, though $20 million of that came from a single fireworks-related fire at a fuel depot in Spokane last June.

Even seemingly benign devices can be dangerous if used carelessly, Moravec said.

“Sparklers are one of the ones that many people consider to be rather harmless,” Moravec said. “But actually they burn at over 1,000 degrees.”

And, as evidenced by online video footage, sparklers and other legal fireworks can and are being transformed by some into illegal explosives.

Moravec on Monday showed CRC members a brief YouTube video filmed and posted by what appears to be a group of young islanders last Fourth of July. The video shows several teens making and detonating sparkler bombs and other devices in an open field.?

Haney said such alterations can lead to much harsher penalties – including prison time – than lesser fireworks violations, which typically carry a fine.

CRC member Barry Peters thinks the city should have a public meeting to discuss the issue. In addition to being an education opportunity, Peters said it would help leaders gauge public interest in the topic.

One question is whether a ban would discourage, rather than encourage, better behavior. Haney said a stricter ordinance won’t necessarily translate to compliance, since people who don’t comply to the existing rules already know what they’re doing is illegal.

Islanders have been polled about the possibility of a ban before.?

Nearly 54 percent of Bainbridge residents said they would oppose a ban, according to a countywide advisory vote taken on the issue in 2004. Precincts near Winslow were the main proponents of the idea, with strong opposition in many outlying areas.

Police have increased enforcement efforts in recent years and instituted a “zero tolerance” policy last year.

Regardless, Haney said few fireworks citations are given, in part because people are often done lighting off fireworks by the time police arrive.

Complaints are processed through a regional dispatch. Of the participating departments, only Bainbridge officers are dispatched to fireworks complaints on the Fourth.

Still, for those who call with complaints, the process can be frustrating.

Islander Vicki Kirkman said she and her husband – who were worried about their livestock – placed multiple calls to complain about fireworks last year, but no officer came.

The dispatcher, she said, continually questioned the veracity of her claims.

“I was just grilled,” Kirkman said. “I know they get hundreds of calls, but to just be dismissed out of hand was very frustrating to say the least.”

Moravec said public outreach will accompany whatever happens with the ordinance.

“Some people see that fireworks are available and assume what they’re doing is okay,” he said. “Regardless of whether there are changes to restrictions or a full ban it’s important to get the message out.”

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