Press Talk: More fireworks? Not so much

Coming soon: A city workshop on fireworks … just because

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor

Published:

 
photoLou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor.

Safe and sane.

Whenever I hear this phrase, I think of a world void of any political types.

… I'm kidding! I'm kidding! Who loves you guys more than anyone? Me! Me! Me!

Truth is, this overused catchphrase has to do with fireworks because we all know there is a safe and sane way for us kids to play with fire and mini-bombs.

Still, we somehow have convinced ourselves that it's OK around July 4 to spend our hard-earned money to — you guessed it — play with fire and blow things up. So we hunker down in our hallways, pray a little and get through it.

"Thank goodness that's over," we tell ourselves.

But wait! Someone has a new idea. Let's consider having safe and sane fireworks every day!

Enter City Councilor Jack Burkman.

Look, I've grown to like this guy. He is his own brand of cool in an intellectual sort of way. He's also articulate, considerate and genuine. And about that intellectual thing. Hey, I wish I had more intellect. Intellectuals run this world.

Anyway, Jack mentioned this everyday fireworks idea at a recent council meeting.

photoCity Councilor Jack Burkman: A sparkling idea?

His hook — what prompted him — was a report from the police department on fireworks. Jack said he saw …

"At least one case where a family was ticketed for the use of sparklers."

So I asked around to see if I could get a peek at that citation. And what the citation actually said was, "Witnessed and admitted to setting off fountains and sparklers."

So Jack was accurate, but if you ask anyone, they would tell you it was the fountains — a real doozy firework — that prompted the citation, not the sparklers.

But let's talk about sparklers. You know, those cute little sparkle things. Jack said he was concerned that if little Timmy wanted a few of them at his birthday party and the law got wind of it, why, they'd throw the kid in the hoosegow. On his birthday, no less! Well Jack didn't say that exactly but you get the idea. But I digress. Sparklers are — after all — safe and sane.

Right? Right?

Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli said residents should not assume sparklers are some benign form of fun. Heidi said they burn hot. Very hot.

And, of course, Heidi was right.

On Friday, I spoke to Guy Colonna, the division manager for the National Fire Protection Association, a consumer advocacy group that — among other things — opposes putting fireworks in the hands of people like me.

On its website, a way cool chart shows the types of fireworks that cause injuries. And guess what type of fireworks causes the most injuries?

Sparklers.

About 24 percent of all fireworks-related injuries are caused by sparklers, more than any other fireworks category.

As Heidi noted, sparklers burn very hot. Guy said it was like 1,200-degrees-Fahrenheit hot. Think about that for a second. When you crank up your oven, it gets to, what, 450, maybe 500 degrees?

And sparklers do cause injuries. A media outlet reported that a 6-year-old's shoe was ignited by a sparkler, burning much of the skin off her foot. She required skin grafts.

Safe and sane?

Guy said he challenges safe and sane as a subcategory of fireworks.

"All contribute to injury reports," he said.

To be clear, Jack is not suggesting we immediately change Vancouver's fireworks laws. But he did say, "I don't think we're in the right place yet."

I'd agree with Jack, but for me the "right place" would be to leave fireworks to the professionals. And not to go back to where more fireworks are allowed to be used by guys like me.

What's next? Well, a city workshop on fireworks of course.

Difficult to argue against a workshop … unless maybe, possibly, there is more-important stuff the city could be working on. Like taking care of our parks or fixing our roads.

Oh, I suspect the air at the fireworks workshop will be filled with the words "safe and sane." But two things should be remembered: Sparklers are not safe and sane. And the more often you light anything, the greater the chance you'll burn something down. Maybe even you.

So, please, don't do stupid stuff.


Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian's editor.