Lawmaker: OK fireworks for sales, safety

Posted June 29, 2011, at 7:28 p.m.

BOSTON — It might be too late for this weekend’s festivities, but more fireworks could light up the state’s skies legally next Independence Day.

Lawmakers are contemplating legislation that would legalize the sale and private use of the celebratory pyrotechnics, a move some say would prevent injuries and brighten the state’s economy.

“The only people we’re hurting with the ban is ourselves,” said Rep. Richard Bastien, R-Gardner, who is sponsoring a bill that would allow cities and towns to permit fireworks in their municipality.

Under Bastien’s proposal, if a city or town chooses to allow fireworks, residents planning to light them must obtain a permit from the local fire department so safety officials would know when and where fireworks are being used.

Cities and towns that do not want to legalize fireworks would not be affected by the bill.

Some larger cities might want to maintain the ban, but in towns in rural areas and along the state’s borders, firework sales could bring the much-needed revenue to the state, Bastien said.

“It’s one less incentive to drive over the border,” he said.

Various fireworks are legal in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, and many Massachusetts residents take the short drive out of state every year to bring fireworks to their own backyards. Massachusetts is one of only four states that ban all forms of fireworks. New York, New Jersey, and Delaware have similar laws.

Bastien estimates firework sales could be a $40 million industry for the state.

Nationwide, firework sales generate just under $1 billion. Massachusetts could bring in from $500,000 to $1 million in tax revenue, estimates Julie Heckman, director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.

But some safety officials say the costs outweigh the potential benefits.

“There’s got to be better ways of creating jobs than in a way that will increase injuries,” said Paul Zbikowski, president of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of Massachusetts

Zbikowski, who is the Ashburnham fire chief, said too many people already are hurt by illegally obtained fireworks, and lifting the ban would only increase injuries.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 8,600 people were treated for firework-related injuries in 2010. It is unclear how legalization will impact the number of injuries because the agency does not track injuries by state.

Heckman said legalizing fireworks encourages people to learn how to use them safely and find an appropriate location.

“When you are knowingly breaking law, you don’t plan ahead that’s when things go awry,” Heckman said.

As for the financial cost, Zbikowski said monitoring private fireworks shows could put a financial strain on police and fire departments.

“That’s more time we’re going to have to expend, and we’re already short-handed,” he said.

Money from permit fees and fines will be collected in a Fire Marshal Fireworks fund to help local departments defray costs.

In Massachusetts, a person can be fined $10 to $100 for using fireworks or $100 to $1,000 for selling them.

Heckman said laws prohibiting use were rarely enforced.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire businesses handled a rush of customers during their busiest time of year.

“Business is booming,” said Mary McCluskey, manager of Phantom Fireworks in Londonderry, N.H.

McCluskey said shops in the state teach customers how to safely use fireworks and only sell to people over 21.

She said she supports legalizing the sale of fireworks in her neighboring states.

“The more the merrier,” she said “The more people who are educated about firework safety the better.”

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