Swayed by public testimony, the Vancouver City Council ditched plans to ban all but “safe and sane” fireworks late Monday night.
Speakers flocked to City Hall, with more than 30 people filling out cards to provide up to three minutes of testimony, with a vast majority imploring the city council to not place restrictions on current use. After a 6-1 vote to abandon the changes, with Councilor Bill Turlay casting the lone no vote, the council drew applause.
“I think safe and sane is pretty much out the door at this point,” Councilor Bart Hansen said.
But just what might happen next isn’t clear: Debate continued past 11:45 p.m., and the council seemed to waver in favor of further restricting days of sales and use, and seemed less enamored with the idea of a public vote. The stall means that the city council missed the window to have any changes take effect before July 4, 2013 — state law requires that any changes to fireworks laws be passed 365 days in advance. The council instead said it will talk about changes later this year; any new laws would apply to 2014 at the earliest.
The safe and sane ordinance would have brought Vancouver into line with the fireworks allowed in the state of Oregon, doing away with Roman candles and mortars, along with anything that travels more than 12 inches vertically or more than 15 feet horizontally from the source of ignition. Sparklers, base and cone fountains, ground blooms and smoke devices would be permitted.
Many of those who spoke Monday were first-time visitors to a council meeting and said they felt so strongly about the issue that they had to attend.
Those against the ban spoke of tradition, of the potential loss of revenue for nonprofit vendors and likely enforcement issues.
“You’re punishing people who obey the laws and are responsible,” said Vancouver resident Spencer Nord, 18, who noted that people can go to Portland for safe and sane fireworks; or if they don’t want any, they could go to Canada. “There are these things called earplugs … they’re like $3 for a 10-pack.”
But city fire staff pointed to what they say is a strong correlation with moving to safe and sane fireworks and a decrease in fireworks-related fires and injuries. Other speakers echoed worries about embers raining down on their shake roofs and of terrorized animals.
Clark County commissioners have said they have no plans to change their laws to restrict aerial or mortar fireworks.
Nonprofit fireworks vendors — including those that raise funds for Evergreen High School’s band, the Tornadoes swim team, the Elks Lodge and a veterans’ group — expressed concerns that they will lose a vital funding source. Buyers will go into the unincorporated county or to Indian reservations to get their Fourth of July supplies, they argued.
“The only way our swim team is able to keep afloat is through our fireworks booth,” said Shari Breuer, whose children are on the Tornadoes team. “If fireworks are gone, then our swim team will be gone.”
Brent Pavlicek, general manager with Western Fireworks, a wholesale distributor, said their fears have a good foundation. His company distributes both safe and sane and aerial and mortar fireworks. Those stands that only sell safe and sane products make about 80 percent less, he said.
Linda Langdon said she worked for 20 years in emergency veterinary care. The Fourth of July for her included lines out the door of frenzied, running animals hit by cars and even dogs that had run through plate glass doors in terror.
“I have seen the most horrible things on the Fourth of July in emergency veterinary care,” Langdon said. “I’m filled with dread this time of year because I know what it’s going to do.”
The topic of freedom was raised by both advocates for the change and those against it.
“You’ll turn law-abiding, freedom-loving citizens celebrating their freedom into criminals,” resident David Thornton warned the council.
But Stephanie Turlay, one of the city’s most vocal fireworks opponents and wife of Councilor Bill Turlay, said residents deserve freedom from the toxic chemicals, late-night explosions and fears of fires.
“There is nothing patriotic about making people miserable,” she said.
Fireworks may now be sold from June 28 to July 4. They can be used in city limits from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. July 1 to July 3 and from 9 a.m. to midnight July 4. People can be given a $500 citation for illegal firework use at all times, and a $250 citation for using legal or illegal fireworks outside allowed dates and hours.