Fireworks an Explosive Issue In Maine; New Law Already Causing Controversy

Posted by kate kastelein

On January 1st, a new law will allow Mainers to purchase, possess, and light off fireworks. However, a number of municipalities, including Portland, South Portland, Westbrook and Gorham, have preemptively banned purchasing and possessing fireworks within city limits. Others, like Lewiston and Augusta, are considering a ban.

While state officials thought they were doing towns a favor by allowing municipalities to construct their own ordinances into the bill, the policy is sure to end up a logistical nightmare for police, residents and visitors.

Take, for example, the case of Scarborough and South Portland. Scarborough officials have not banned fireworks in their town, but South Portland has. Theoretically, an individual could legally purchase fireworks in Scarborough, and then while passing through South Portland, be fined for having them.

Population density is the main concern of city councils that have banned fireworks so far. Fire marshals in those towns cite that people and houses are just too close together and the risks too high for lighting off fireworks.

The legalization of fireworks in Maine has become an explosive issue, to say the least. One one side, citizens are looking for less bureaucracy and more personal freedoms, and on the other, issues of personal safety and property damage abound.

A 2005 report from Homeland Security about fireworks safety seems to reflect some of the pros and cons. For example, while the number of injuries from fireworks increased from 8,800 in 2002 to 9,300 in 2003, the injury rate has fallen 37% in the past 13 years.

And though fires are always a concern when fireworks are involved, the report said that, “Because most fires ignited by fireworks are to outside property, the dollar loss to these fires is substantially less than the dollar loss to structure fire.”

Though the new Maine law prohibits the sale of fireworks to anyone under the age of 21, many states have similar laws; laws which can not always keep children out of harm’s way. As the report notes, “Children under the age of 15 suffered 45% of all injuries from fireworks”.

When asked about the potential problems Maine faces with it’s new fireworks laws, both statewide and city-to-city, Jim Dickau of Dresden had the following solution: “Fire Departments should issue permits and charge for them at the same time a short safety course is taken.”

Rob Brown of Jefferson thinks that the risks far outweigh any financial benefit Maine might reap from the sale of fireworks, “The financial benefit of fireworks is tiny and I would wager is more than washed out by additional medical and fire department costs, one fire and a couple of injuries and most of the additional tax revenue is now moot.”

New England Post asked Owen Libby of Dixfield what he thought about individual towns passing their own ordinances when it comes to fireworks. “If individual cities are passing resident supported measures then that of course is representing what people want, and I am OK with that,” said Libby.

The sale and possession of fireworks will not be legal in Maine until January 1st, 2012, and it remains to be seen how many towns will ban them before that date. The best way to make sure you’re in the clear is to call the town where you wish to light off fireworks, make sure they are legal there, and then purchase them upon your arrival.

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Posted by kate kastelein on Oct 10 2011. Filed under Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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