Bellingham working for safe, legal fireworks for July 4, 2013

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 27, 2013 

In response to community and City Council concerns about illegal fireworks, the Bellingham Fire and Police departments are increasing education and enforcement activities this year to help us all enjoy a safe, legal Independence Day.

Our departments are working together to help Bellingham residents understand the fireworks rules that apply for this year. For example, we are providing additional emphasis patrol teams from June 28 through July 5. These teams of fire inspectors and police officers will circulate in neighborhoods, respond to 911 calls, provide education about the Bellingham fireworks code and take enforcement actions for violations of those codes.

These steps are in addition to the work we do with retail fireworks stands in Bellingham, inspecting and educating the people who run them, so that their operations are safe and legal, and so that they can be advocates for appropriate use of legal fireworks.

2013 FIREWORKS TIME RESTRICTIONS

Fireworks stands open in Bellingham on June 28, with sales allowed through July 4. City residents should only purchase from licensed, permitted fireworks stand within the city. We do not inspect or license stands located outside the city, and many sell fireworks that are prohibited within the city.

The Bellingham fireworks code states it is unlawful to discharge consumer fireworks at any time except on July 4, between the hours of 9 a.m. and midnight.

City residents are encouraged to call 911 if fireworks are being discharged in their neighborhoods before or after July 4, or if illegal fireworks are being discharged at any time.

2013 LEGAL AND ILLEGAL FIREWORKS

The city permits the possession, use and discharge of some consumer fireworks on July 4:

• Legal fireworks in the city limits of Bellingham include: Novelty and smoke items, sparklers and spinners, helicopters, cones and fountains, wheels, Roman candles (up to 10 "stars").

• Mortar-type fireworks prohibited: The city prohibits the use of "mortar-type fireworks," even though they may be permitted under the state fireworks law. Mortar-type firework means a device including a shell or shells, typically round or cylindrical, launched in the air using a tube. Both stand-alone mortar devices and multi-aerial devices that launch shells into the air meet this definition and are prohibited under Bellingham fireworks code.

Fireworks regulations in place today in Bellingham are more restrictive than state regulations. Violations of the Bellingham fireworks code are misdemeanor offenses that may be punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000, or by imprisonment not to exceed 90 days, or both.

• The following items are considered illegal explosive devices and are illegal anywhere in the state of Washington: M-80s or larger, cherry bombs, any improvised device such as tennis ball bombs. Felony charges can be brought against people found guilty of possessing or discharging some illegal explosives.

More details about current fireworks regulations can be found in the Bellingham Municipal Code on the city website. Fireworks safety tips can be found on the city website as well.

>b>CALL 911 FOR FIREWORKS COMPLAINTS

City residents are encouraged to call 911 if fireworks are being discharged before or after July 4, or if illegal fireworks are being discharged at any time. We work hard to enforce these laws and hold offenders accountable. We expect our circulating teams to make a difference in fireworks being used at the wrong time or illegal devices being used.

Even with teams circulating in neighborhoods, however, we simply cannot be everywhere at once. Also, because an officer must personally witness inappropriate fireworks use before taking action, it is often difficult for us to hold people accountable.

Regardless of these realities, please call 911 if you experience fireworks violations. This helps us know where the problems are, so we can send our patrol teams to the most troublesome locations. It also allows us to collect information to use for future education and enforcement efforts, especially once the total ban takes effect in 2014.

The Bellingham City Council recently adopted a ban on the sale and use of personal fireworks within city limits, beginning in 2014. The one-year delay is required by state law, which means current requirements remain in place for this year.

Thank you for your patience and cooperation. We look forward to a safe, legal 2013 Independence Day!

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Roger Christensen is Bellingham's fire chief and Cliff Cook is Bellingham's police chief.

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