Fireworks: love ’em, hate ’em, tolerate ’em

The city of Port Orchard will put a notice in upcoming utility bills reminding folks to be safe and sensible about fireworks. The decision was triggered by recent complaints from city residents.

Among them is Elissa Whittleton, who is weary of the traffic and — as she describes it — mayhem that take place on the 4th of July in her Tracy Avenue neighborhood. It should be noted that Tracy Avenue, perched up on the hillside above Sinclair Inlet, has one of the best views in the city of the annual Fathoms ‘O Fun fireworks display.
The city council on March 18 brought in Port Orchard Police Chief Geoffrey Marti and South Kitsap Fire & Rescue Chief Steve Wright to talk about what could be done to maximize safety.

Whittleton would like the city to designate fireworks free zones, specifically areas like Tracy Avenue that become congested with pedestrians and traffic. But Wright said such zones would be “hard to enforce.”

Selectively designated no-fireworks zones may not even be something the city can do, Marti said, “To say that area is unique and deserves unique rules would be hard to defend (to other neighborhoods that may also seek such a ban).”

Illegal fireworks are the greatest source of incidents, according to SKFR data, Wright said. “The public sort of takes a liberty that they view this as their time to do something that is really outside of the norm.”

Wright recalled past efforts to impose a countywide ban on fireworks that fizzled out for lack of support.

Staffing for Independence Day is always a challenge, both chiefs said. Both the fire and police departments call in additional help, but officers and fire units can’t be everywhere. SKFR factors in weather conditions in planning for the 4th.

Marti advised people who call 911 for fireworks-related issues to specify first if there is an imminent danger: has someone been injured, is someone’s house on fire? People should also specify if they want an officer to contact them. The department will triage calls, but eventually they will get back to everyone who requests contact, Marti said, adding. “It may take some time.”

Mayor Tim Matthes noted that two years ago the fireworks were “pretty bad,” but last year, the Port of Bremerton prohibited fireworks on its property and had volunteers (identified as representing the port) patrol the property. Warning signs also reminded waterfront visitors. The result was a calmer atmosphere, Matthes said. He recommended the city recruit additional volunteers to help the port’s effort.

Bek Ashby, a council member who lives in the same general area as Whittleton, said she enjoys the festivities and is resigned to the drill.

“Every 4th of July, I have to be home after six to protect my home. That’s just the way it is,” Ashby said. “I just consider that the price I pay to have the best view in the city of the fireworks.”

Months later, she still finds spent incendiary devices in her flower beds.

“I for one don’t want to eliminate the fireworks in the city,” Ashby said later in the meeting. “It’s joyous in my neighborhood. It’s loud but people are having a lot of fun.”

Whittleton, at the council’s March 25 meeting, thanked them for discussing the idea but said, “not much headway” was made in resolving safety issues. She suggested charging a tax or fee on fireworks sold in the city and using the money to enforce the prohibition against illegal fireworks.

State law defines legal “consumer fireworks” (not to be confused with “display fireworks”) as “any small firework device designed to produce visible effects by combustion” under regulations of the United States consumer product safety commission, “and including some small devices designed to produce audible effects, such as whistling devices, ground devices containing 50 mg or less of explosive materials, and aerial devices containing 130 mg or less of explosive materials …”

What are your thoughts on fireworks? Love ’em? Hate ’em? Tolerate ’em? What suggestions do you have regarding celebration of Independence Day where you live?

And finally, what’s the best place in Kitsap County for watching fireworks?

7 thoughts on “Fireworks: love ’em, hate ’em, tolerate ’em

  1. Elissa Whittleton was having some technical difficulty commenting on this blog that we haven’t quite resolved yet, so I’m posting her comment below.

    Elissa wrote:

    “I think that the big displays are beautiful and a good alternative to what many are currently experiencing at the hands of those who do not use fireworks responsibly. I think it makes little sense to light off explosive devices within close quarters and expect that the debris, noise and fire hazard won’t manifest a negative effect, especially when the main part of the problem is illegal fireworks… (for insight on the City’s stance, consider reviewing the work study minutes online at the City of Port Orchard March 18th, about minute 36) Did I really hear one of our councilmen say“You can only do what you can do”? To this I would say EXACTLY! There is plenty that can be done! How about a fee attached to sales of fireworks in Port Orchard to help enforce the law regarding their use and help pay for the city clean up?…Port Orchard historically hosts more fireworks stands than any other non-reservation area of the county. How about adding information regarding illegal fireworks and the penalties involved with that notice that’s going out in the utility bill? Did you know the use/possession of M80’s are not only a felony, but carry a fine of $1,000? How about enforcing the law and writing the appropriate citation, thereby generating funds to support more law enforcement?…It is my understanding no citations were written last year, although the Police Chief stated there was so much going on in the city, anyone who lived here could potentially have had just cause for making a complaint. He also stated how limited his staff is on this day, and how he relies heavily upon his volunteer officers …Our thanks, but what are we expecting? Don’t we owe our law enforcement more tools to effectively manage the holiday? Since it is difficult to catch abusers of fireworks, perhaps plain clothed officers could help deter the offenses. How about some brainstorming between the public and the city? How can we work out a solution if the two components can’t/won’t interface? Is it really legal to use the intersection in question for others to come into the neighborhood and light off fireworks until the show begins? After all, isn’t this the road all the traffic from Bay Street is diverted up so that Bay Street can be a no traffic viewing spot? What about our street? Has it not been referred to as a prime viewing area? How about routing traffic up Olney or Retsil Road?…These roads offer two full lanes, unlike portions of Tracy, and there are no viewing areas. If what I’m hearing is we can’t manage the situation within the city, I must ask the question: Why do we even have fireworks within the city? The police chief stated six years ago the situation on the fourth was “shocking”…six years ago was a Friday…so is this year’s 4th. I, for one, think we need to be more proactive…It is quite unacceptable to expect citizens to put up with those who show no regard. To sum up: We experienced so much falling debris in our yard on the fourth it overfilled a shopping bag, we do not light fireworks, and neither does anyone who lives at the other three corners of the intersection in question…need I say more?”

    — Chris Henry, reporter

  2. I grew up in the East Coast where fireworks were illegal except in the public displays local towns put on . Was not a big deal , when we were kids we always got our hands on some from some kid who was coming home from vacation or something and had gotten them somehow .

    Perhaps the best compromise would be to have a curfew that was enforced , but also accept able to the majority of citizens . No fireworks after 10 PM or another time . The worse thing in my opinion are laws that are not enforced .

  3. I love’em, hate’em, and tolerate’em.

    I love watching them from afar.

    I hate’em because loud noises scare me. Seriously, I’m the one at the family party at the lake that goes up to the cabin when dusk hits and the fireworks start.

    I tolerate’em because it is one day a year where we celebrate with ‘rockets red glare’ and ‘bombs bursting in air’… reminding us of how fortunate we are to live in this great nation… free to set off those pretend rockets and bombs (safely, I hope!)… free from real rockets and bombs (forever, I hope!)… and free to tolerate that which we do not like (the loud noises!) as part of the price we pay for freedom.

    There is bit of symbolism in tolerating those fireworks. I don’t like everything in our Constitution, but I accept that which I do not like as part of the cost of the vast majority of the Constitution that I do like. And because I believe in that beloved Constitution so deeply, I will defend the part I don’t like until it is changed through Constitutional process.

    Let the rockets red glare and the bombs burst in the air for a day. I can take it. I’m an American!!

  4. Mick,

    10pm? Really? It is barely dark at 10pm on the 4th of July. Give the patriots until midnight. 😉

  5. I don’t go out of my way to attend fireworks displays, but I do enjoy some of them as we tend to live where the free shows are abundant and panoramic. However, I don’t enjoy the inevitable litter of spent devices we find each year on our roof, grass, or other parts of the property.

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