Fireworks Spark Debate

This 2015 Fourth of July celebration brought $824,500 in reported fireworks damage.

The Vancouver City Council held a preliminary vote on Sept. 28 to ban the sale and use of personal fireworks within city limits. Six of the seven members voted in favor of the ban.

The city council has a responsibility to the citizens of Vancouver to ensure their safety, and fireworks have simply become too dangerous to be used within the city.  Fireworks must be banned.

Vancouver residents in favor of the ban expressed this sentiment at city hall during the Sept. 28 meeting. “We no longer feel safe on the Fourth of July in our communities,” Disaster Recovery Specialist Ben Maxwell (CQ) said. “We are forced to live in a hostile environment when dangerous fireworks are exploding all around us.”

Part of the issue stems from Vancouver’s increased population.  The population of Vancouver has increased by 30,000 people since the year 2000.  Currently approximately 170,000 people live within city limits.  With new developments being built daily, the population is only going to increase in density and size. “The risk of personal injury and property damage increases as well,” said Mayor of Vancouver Tim Leavitt

The mayor added that people’s “personal well-being” is top priority. People raised their concerns to Leavitt about not only their own well-being, but also their animals and people with post traumatic stress disorder. “It was like a warzone out there,” Councilmember Jack Burkman said.

After having a terrible experience this Fourth of July, Patricia Hammond, a 65-year-old grandmother insisted city council go forward with banning fireworks. Hammond couldn’t reach 911 and had to climb on her roof with a hose to put out a fire that started due to firework debris landing on her home.

Stories like hers highlight the issue.  Vancouver is simply becoming too big to sustain personal fireworks use.  Emergency Personnel also voiced their concern regarding the size of the city.

The volume of calls over the Fourth of July holiday makes it almost impossible for emergency workers to keep up said Lead Deputy Fire Marshall Chad Lawry. There were 1,112 fire calls over the last independence holiday he said. The Fire Department simply does not have the ability to answer each one and dispatch emergency vehicles.  

Emergency medical technicians faced a similar issue.  EMT Will Frank said he gets five to six calls on the Fourth of July compared to the two to three he can expect on a normal evening.  

“We cover about 11,000 square miles, a lot of which is rural area, it’s possible to get tied up for a good amount of time on one call.” Frank said there are only so many calls one emergency vehicle can respond to in one night.

The increased population and the strain that puts on emergency services provides a compelling case to ban fireworks.  However opponents feel it is extreme to ban fireworks after what they call “one bad year.”

Bret Pallitsor, the general manager of Western Fireworks, pointed out the conditions causing fire hazards were abnormally bad this year.  He also spoke about the revenue that fireworks bring to the city.  “Our estimates show that annually each of the 21 city permits contributes over $35,000 each to the community,” Pallitsor said. “That’s nearly $750,000 that will be lost by these individuals and commerce in your community.”

Councilmember Alishia Topper said she was open to an emergency ban based on extreme conditions.  She also said she was a proponent of opening up the issue to an advisory vote, where citizens would have the opportunity to vote on the issue.  

According to state law, it takes one full calendar year for a ban to take effect.  No matter what, any ban will not take effect until 2017.  If the issue is put to an advisory vote the timeline will extend further.  The risk of damage and injury is simply too great to put the measure on a ballot.

While there will always be the worry that people will ignore the ban, Burkman is confident that most people want to follow the law, and will continue without fireworks. The city still plans to move forward with the annual Fort Vancouver Fourth of July Celebration.  

City Councilmembers are elected to make these types of decisions.  Burkman said that the members are “representatives of the people elected to study issues, obtain deep knowledge and cast a vote on them.”  That is exactly what they are doing here.  “It’s a very split issue so to take it to an advisory vote amplifies that- it will polarize and divide our community,” Burkman explains. “It’s a public safety issue and that’s our primary job, to protect the community.”


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