Officials back total fireworks ban

County fire officials hope to dampen the risk of summer blazes with a ban on all personal-use fireworks.

“These last few years have been as bad as they could possibly be,” said North Kitsap Fire Chief Paul Nichol, who with Bainbridge Fire Chief Jim Walkowski is among fire officials urging a ban.

“As fire chiefs, we think it’s time to do something about it,” Nichol said.

A rapid succession of fires during the 2003 Fourth of July celebration kept North Kitsap fire crews responding to calls from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. the next morning.

This year, firefighters countywide scrambled to extinguish grass fires and other blazes throughout the week leading up to Independence Day.

The proposed ban – which would have to be enacted by local city councils and the Kitsap County Commission – would not affect the sale or use of fireworks on Native American reservations, or large public displays such as those in Kingston and Poulsbo.

Fire officials plan to take a ban proposal to the county commissioners before the end of August; they would like to see commissioners advance an advisory ballot in November, to gauge the public’s views on the issue.

Bainbridge fire commissioners will discuss the issue at their regular meeting at 7 p.m. this evening, Aug. 11, at the Madison Avenue Fire Hall.

“We got many calls from people on the island this year asking us to do something about fireworks,” said Bainbridge Fire Chief Jim Walkowski.

While fires were not a significant problem on the island this year, Walkowski said one woman was injured when fireworks spooked her horse and she was thrown off.

County fire officials have tried other methods this year to curb firework misuse and accidents. Many encouraged residents to enjoy public displays instead of backyard blowouts. Walkowski advocated ferrying over to Seattle for firework shows or viewing the Poulsbo or Port Orchard displays from the island.

Nichol and his firefighters donated $5 for every person who pledged not to buy fireworks for home use. The fundraiser generated hundreds of dollars for Kingston’s public fireworks display.

But stronger steps must be taken for the public’s safety, Nichol said.

North Kitsap County Commissioner Chris Endresen agrees the community should look at banning fireworks use.

“I think it’s time to consider it,” Endresen said. “It’s getting hotter and dryer every year. I would like to see something like this county-wide.”

Endresen’s knows firsthand the danger of fireworks; her Poulsbo home was set ablaze last year by someone else’s celebration.

“I woke at 4 a.m. to my son telling me the roof outside his bedroom window was on fire,” she said. “We were very fortunate we didn’t lose our house or worse.”

Other cities have enacted similar bans to improve public safety, including Seattle, Spokane and Everett. A ban in Kitsap County would reduce the tax burden of supporting frantic firefighting and free up emergency responders for other duties, Nichol said.

But many firework sellers and suppliers would be hard hit if the ban was enacted, said Salish Fireworks sales manager Randall Cook. Salish Fireworks is a Native American, family-owned importer and wholesaler based in Anacortes, with customers in Kitsap.

“It would definitely impact us if we couldn’t sell in Kitsap County,” he said.

“It would also hurt the Kiwanis, churches and other nonprofits who use fireworks stands as fund-raisers.”

The ban would also dampen patriotic celebrations, he said.

“It’s a celebration of our freedom,” he said. “It’s an American tradition, but safety is required.”

Nichols questions the patriotism of many personal firework users.

“Here’s my personal spin: a lot of people are not (setting off fireworks) as a display of national pride. They’re doing it because they want to see pretty little things blow up or shoot off just because they can.”

Cook called for more preventative measures rather than an outright ban.

“Firework safety hasn’t been given a chance or been well communicated,” he said. “It’s a slow process but it can work.”

Rules that restrict firework use to the Fourth of July are also a better option than a full ban, he said.

“Some lighting periods that last a week are too long,” he said.

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