Surprise fireworks display in York, allowed by loophole in local law, blamed in dog’s death

Posted Sept. 05, 2013, at 9:53 a.m.

YORK, Maine — Town officials are trying to figure out how to close a loophole in the local ordinance governing fireworks after a private professional display alarmed neighbors who thought it was gunfire and caused the death of a dog spooked by the noise.

At issue is how the town should handle professional fireworks displays by private homeowners as, by state law, there is no requirement for the homeowner or pyrotechnical company to notify police or neighbors.

That was the case Aug. 24, when a professional fireworks display at Highland Farm, 301 Cider Hill Road, upset neighbors who said they were unaware the fireworks would be set off. The fireworks were part of a wedding, according to police, who went to the area after receiving numerous complaints.

Two residents described the estimated 30-minute display as sounding like a war zone. Horses at a nearby barn “were totally freaking out,” said neighbor Walter Moulton.

Alan Junkins, of Cider Hill Road, told the Board of Selectmen on Aug. 26, “There were tremendous explosions all around our house.”

A dog ran into Cider Hill Road and was hit and killed by a car, according to neighbors and police.

The York Police Department was made aware that the event was going to take place, at about noon that day.

No illegal activity occurred.

Police Chief Doug Bracy said that currently, professional fireworks displays done on private property “fall through the cracks” of local law.

While the town bans residents from setting off consumer fireworks that were made legal in Maine in 2012, there is no local law against residents setting off commercial pyrotechnical fireworks that, until the Aug. 24 incident in York, were done only for public display for the Fourth of July or York Days.

“This is the first time we’ve run into it,” said Steve Burns, the town’s Community Development director.

Bracy suggested the town ordinance be changed so private homeowners be required, as are organizations such as Ellis Short Sands Park, to ask the Board of Selectmen for an event permit to hold a professional display.

Currently, Burns has not written such an ordinance amendment because selectmen have yet to make that directive, he said. The issue was brought to the board by Bracy and Alan and Nancy Junkins on Aug. 26, but as of yet, the matter has not come up as an agenda item for action, he said.

Professional displays require a permit from the state fire marshal’s office. State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said it is up to municipalities to restrict displays.

“Most of the restrictions I’m aware of are done at the local level or by town ordinance,” he said. “State law does not dictate how the event is held. The town can restrict anything it wants to in regards to pyrotechnics.”

The state fire marshal’s office gives the permit to a pyrotechnical company, he said. State law does not mandate the company to contact local police, but in most cases, town officials are aware of public displays, he said.

The pyrotechnic company is required to have an insurance rider of a minimum $1 million coverage, he said.

Highland Farm, through Central Maine Pyrotechnics, got the required state permit, he said.

Attempts to reach Highland Farm owners Paul and Sally Aldrich were unsuccessful.

The state gives out 350-400 commercial permits annually, according to figures from Thomas’ office. Permits for private displays are increasing by a small amount, said Thomas, who had no breakdown of figures.

A staff member of the state fire marshal’s office inspects the site, having parameters on distance and proximity to hazards.

“If everything meets the standard,” Thomas said, “they are issued the permit.”

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