Mainers encouraged to use caution, be a good neighbor when using fireworks

Jay Blais, co-owner of Patriot Fireworks in Monmouth, shows Lewiston residents (from left) Jacob Mottram, 11, with his father, Jason Mottram, and Greg Morin how to safely use a canister shell firework on Tuesday afternoon. &quotYou should designate a shooter for your Fourth of July parties just like you would a driver," said Blais. &quotAlcohol and fireworks do not mix."
Amber Waterman | Sun Journal
Jay Blais, co-owner of Patriot Fireworks in Monmouth, shows Lewiston residents (from left) Jacob Mottram, 11, with his father, Jason Mottram, and Greg Morin how to safely use a canister shell firework on Tuesday afternoon. "You should designate a shooter for your Fourth of July parties just like you would a driver," said Blais. "Alcohol and fireworks do not mix."
Posted July 02, 2012, at 11:04 a.m.
Last modified July 02, 2012, at 1:49 p.m.

NEWPORT, Maine — For Cedric O’Donnell, business has been steady since his Newport Fireworks store opened along Route 7 a couple of weeks ago.

O’Donnell still was adding shelves to his store last week while people waited in line to buy various fireworks they held in their hands and arms, ready to celebrate the approaching Fourth of July.

A brochure that includes state regulations is included with every sale, he said, in order for people to have fun while also being safe.

“Hopefully nobody does anything stupid,” said O’Donnell.

On Jan. 1, the law banning fireworks in the state was lifted. It took only two months for the first fireworks store, Pyro City in Manchester, to open. Since then, nine other stores have sprouted.

In addition to Manchester, licensed fireworks stores have popped up in Edgecomb, Monmouth, Winslow, Ellsworth, Newport and two in Scarborough. Stores in Old Town and Presque Isle became licensed on Friday.

Business was booming Sunday morning at Pyro City in Presque Isle, where store manager Aaron Conroy said more than 200 customers had been in since the grand opening Saturday.

“This is awesome,” Conroy said in between explaining the intricacies and characteristics of various fireworks to lines of customers. “This is definitely something whose time has come [and] it’s long overdue.”

Although fireworks now are legal in Maine, there are still restrictions and laws regarding them, said Joe Thomas, acting state fire marshal.

Certain fireworks, including missile-type rockets, helicopters, aerial spinners, sky rockets and bottle rockets, are still illegal. It’s also illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to buy or use fireworks.

“First and foremost, we do encourage people to buy fireworks from a Maine-licensed store,” said Thomas. “Maine licensed stores are selling Maine-approved fireworks. If someone was traveling through Pennsylvania, they might pick up a product thinking it’s legal, when, in fact, it might be an illegal device.”

Many towns and cities have ordinances regarding fireworks. Some have prohibited their use altogether. Thomas said most fireworks violations would be classified as misdemeanors and carry a maximum fine of $500. If an adult provides fireworks to someone under the age of 21, however, it becomes a criminal offense and could warrant jail time.

Fireworks must be fired from someone’s own property or written permission must be obtained from the landowner in order to use fireworks on the property, said Thomas. Fireworks may not be fired from property owned by the town, city or state, he added.

Noise complaints from fireworks have been an issue in Bangor, according to Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards.

During the weekend of June 22-24, Bangor police received three noise complaints related to fireworks. All the complaints came from the same area.

In Brewer, police Capt. Jason Moffitt urged fireworks users to be considerate.

“Go out and talk to your neighbor,” he said. “That would take care of 90 percent of your problems [regarding noise complaints from fireworks].”

Police in Rumford and Lewiston say they have seen a steady increase in complaints about fireworks — and they expect those complaints to increase as the Fourth of July gets closer.

“What we are experiencing in our context here in Rumford is really a lack of understanding about what the law is and what it is not,” Capt. Dan Garbarini of the Rumford Police Department said.

Another problem is that loud fireworks can be mistaken for gunshots, according to Lt. Mike McGonagle, public information officer for the Lewiston Police Department.

“We are going to handle a gunfire call on an entirely different level,” he said. “Gunshots fired are a high priority; we take that a lot more seriously than your typical noise complaint.”

Newport Police Chief Leonard Macdaid said he has received only about six noise complaints since fireworks were legalized.

Noise from fireworks can be more than just annoying for some. Pets and animals can be spooked by the loud bangs. Thomas said a man in Warren is worried about his hunting dogs.

“Two [of his dogs] were absolutely traumatized [by the noise of fireworks],” said Thomas, noting that the dogs cost between $3,000 and $4,000 apiece. “His concern as an abutter was, ‘I was never notified. I would’ve packed my dogs up and gotten out of there.’ You can’t have a hunting dog that is now shellshocked.”

Children and fireworks also can be a bad mix, said Thomas.

“Our biggest focus is the kids,” said Thomas. “We want to make sure they stay out of the hands of kids.”

Last year, an 11-year-old New Hampshire boy was sent to the hospital after a firework misfired and damaged his eye while in Georgetown.

No major special preparations are being made at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor in regard to people possibly getting hurt by fireworks around the Fourth of July.

“In the Emergency Department, we’re always prepared for injuries like burns, hand injuries, and eye injuries that are commonly associated with fireworks,” said Dr. Jonnathan Busko, emergency medicine physician. “Because we do see these types of injuries on a daily basis, and we’re always ready for them, we’re going to prepare for the Fourth of July like every day in the Emergency Department.”

Thomas said people should use common sense when using fireworks.

“If they’re going to be using them, do so in an open area, flat or even paved, if possible, so we’re not looking at vegetation,” said Thomas, adding that people should know what the fire danger is from the Maine Forest Service that day. “We encourage people to use eye protection, keep children out of the way, have a garden hose available in case of an unanticipated problem, and have a bucket of water nearby.”

If one of the fireworks doesn’t set off like it should, Thomas said to “leave it completely alone for 15 to 20 minutes, then take a shovel or something with a handle, and drop it in the bucket of water and leave it there for a period of time to make sure it’s completely saturated. Then dispose of it.”

Bangor, Orono, Portland, Unity, Mount Desert and Rockland are among about two dozen communities in Maine that have outlawed the use and/or sale of fireworks.

“Other than July 4 and Dec. 31, the time of day when fireworks can be fired is between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., unless otherwise regulated by local ordinance,” said Thomas.

Thomas encouraged anyone interested in using fireworks to call their town office to find out if there are any special ordinances regarding fireworks.

Jeff Mechalko of Blaine was at Pyro City in Presque Isle on Sunday shopping with his 12-year-old son, Evan, for July Fourth fireworks.

“I’m buying these because I can now,” the elder Mechalko said, nodding toward his filled basket. “I want to have a little bit of fireworks display with my son with things that will burst in the air.”

As his son browsed along one of the dozens of aisles displaying scores of fireworks choices, Mechalko said he was looking forward to the celebrations.

“Buying fireworks in Maine is something that is well beyond its time,” he said. “It’s legal in other states and it’s great so long as people don’t abuse the privilege.”

Evan Mechalko was a bit more direct in his feelings about the new law.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said.

BDN writer Nok-Noi Ricker, freelance writer Julia Bayly and the Lewiston Sun Journal contributed to this report.

 

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