Area chiefs oppose legalizing of fireworks
Some local legislators say it would create jobs and generate revenue, but area fire chiefs oppose a proposal to allow communities to legalize fireworks.
“The costs from legalizing fireworks would far outweigh the benefits,” said Aaron Goodale, Upton’s fire and EMS chief. “We all enjoy a good fireworks show, and I understand the jobs and revenue that fireworks would bring, but fireworks are just too dangerous and shouldn’t be legalized here.”
A state legislator wants Massachusetts’ communities to have the right to decide whether fireworks are OK.
State Rep. Richard Bastien, R-Gardner, spoke before the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee last week, saying his bill would combine the best practices from the 46 states where fireworks are legal.
The bill would let each city and town decide whether to issue fireworks sales licenses and allow its fire department to issue fireworks use permits, with fees not allowed to exceed $25.
Bastien’s bill would also increase penalties for improper fireworks use from $100 to $500, with fines of $1,000 for second and subsequent offenses.
Bastien said the bill would create jobs and revenue in Massachusetts, estimating the state would gain $2 million in sales taxes from a $40 million industry.
But area fire chiefs oppose legalizing fireworks, saying they don’t want the public to be put in harm’s way despite the safety measures in Bastien’s legislation.
“Statistics show that fireworks contribute to a number of resident injuries and firefighter injuries on an annual basis here, and they are not even legal here,” Goodale said. “If legalized, fireworks would only lead to additional injuries and possible deaths.”
Goodale acknowledged that residents commonly buy fireworks from neighboring states around the Fourth of July holiday, leading to brush fires and building fires. But the Upton chief said these fires would spike if fireworks were available in Massachusetts.
Goodale also said it would be tough to manage the fireworks use permits.
“There is such a variety of fireworks, so it would be very difficult to monitor what exactly they’re firing off,” Goodale said. “We have solid guidelines and regulations for burning brush, but it would be difficult with fireworks.”
Franklin Fire Chief Gary McCarraher said tragic accidents result from fireworks, including burns, loss of limbs and sight.
“We have to factor all these injuries into the debate over fireworks. They have a large impact,” McCarraher said. “It’s always difficult to offset tragedies with creating jobs and bringing in revenue. It’s not worth the risk.”
But some area legislators support the bill because of the promise of increased jobs and revenue and a decrease in injuries.
“It shouldn’t be a problem if adults are following the necessary directions and guidelines,” said state Rep. George Peterson, R-Grafton. “Also, the person using the fireworks should be at least 18 years old. It’s important to keep children away from fireworks.”
Peterson said there is more awareness of firework safety and the technology has been improved with safer fuses. He noted Bastien’s testimony that industry and government statistics indicate a national drop in fireworks-related injuries over the last 30 years.
State Rep. Kevin Kuros, R-Uxbridge, said this bill takes a “cautious, measured approach” to legalizing fireworks. He said that injuries are always a concern, but the permit notification aspect of the bill would be a good way to monitor fireworks around town and make the process safe.
“It’s important for public safety to know where people are going to use fireworks,” Kuros said. “Residents are already buying them from out-of-state, so why not legalize fireworks and make it safe for them to use them?”
Despite the local legislative support, the bill faces tough going after House Speaker Robert DeLeo spoke against it this week, telling the State House News Service that members of the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts have warned him damages and medical costs of accidents would offset any benefits.
Kuros said the speaker’s opposition and a busy legislative calendar will probably keep the bill off the House floor.