AUGUSTA — Fire Chief Roger Audette grew up where fireworks were legal and popular with his classmates, and he has seen the damage they can do firsthand.

So Audette, in a recommendation seconded by City Manager William Bridgeo, believes the city should ban the sale and use of fireworks, despite a new state law allowing the colorful explosives in Maine for the first time in decades.

Audette, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, where fireworks were legal, acknowledged that as a boy he was not immune to their pull.

Indeed, their attraction to children is one of the reasons he believes the city should not allow them.

“Every June, fireworks stands popped up everywhere,” Audette told city councilors recently. “I spent my childhood years blowing stuff up. And every year, someone at my school got hurt.

“Kids want to handle this stuff. My fear is we’re going to end up with a lot of calls and injuries if they are legalized.”

Bridgeo said he will collect fireworks ordinances from other communities — such as Portland, which has banned them — as well as the state law that takes effect Jan. 1 allowing the use, possession and sale of consumer fireworks.

He said councilors could consider those documents as they decide whether to ban or restrict the use of fireworks in Augusta.

The new state law allows municipalities to regulate and ban the sale and use of fireworks within their borders.

Bridgeo said he hadn’t given much thought to banning fireworks in Augusta until Audette shared information from a U.S. Fire Administration report that said state laws regulating the sale of fireworks directly affected the occurrence of fireworks-related injuries.

In one state, the 2001 report says, the number of injuries seen in emergency departments more than doubled after the legalization of fireworks.

“I found it instructive and, frankly, sobering,” Bridgeo said of the data shared by Audette.

On Friday, Bridgeo added, “Though most folks, including me, think that they’re fun and OK when properly used, I think the experience in other states that have liberalized their fireworks laws shows a significant public safety concern, and I can’t get past that.”

Bridgeo noted the city can always loosen a fireworks ordinance later, to allow some regulated use. Banning it now would prevent someone from opening a fireworks shop in the city only to have it banned later, he said.

“If you don’t (ban it before the state law changes), you run the risk of people making an investment to establish a fireworks store here, and then if you decide to prohibit them, you’re in a position of depriving somebody of their livelihood,” Bridgeo said.

Audette and Police Chief Robert Gregoire said allowing fireworks could cost municipalities, for firefighters and ambulance crews to respond to fires and injuries caused by fireworks, police officers to respond to complaints, and public works employees to clean up scraps of paper and other debris left behind.

“You’re going to have property damage, injuries and litter,” Gregoire said.

Gregoire also favors the city adopting an ordinance to regulate fireworks — though he stopped short of recommending an outright ban.

“My recommendation is we adopt an ordinance to control it,” he said. “As to how far we control it, that’s up to the public and City Council.”

Audette said Augusta will be able to look at statistics over the next few years to see the impact the state law change has on the numbers of fireworks-related fire calls and injuries.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]


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