- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The nation’s capital is expected Tuesday to consider an emergency plan to ban fireworks before the Fourth of July weekend.

The plan is being proposed by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, and is drawing mixed reaction among the city’s 13 council members.

“I hear complaints all the time,” said D.C. Council member Jim Graham, a Ward 1 Democrat who worked with the mayor on the bill. “July Fourth and few days before and a few days after, [fireworks] are going off all night.”

Some residents on Monday were more expressive.

“It’s dangerous for kids,” said John McCall, of Northeast. “There’s a mess after it’s over and fireworks land in my yard, then go off. The whole thing is very unruly. Some of these things are like bombs.”

City police and fire officials said last year they responded to 4,000 complaints during one 12-hour period and put out 14 fires related to fireworks.

Other council members say they are reluctant to ban the American tradition.

“Personally, I want to be able to play with sparklers in the back yard with my kids,” said council member Kwame Brown, at-large Democrat. “But I have to listen to the residents [who] say they don’t want them anymore.”

The bill would ban the sale and use of all fireworks and give the Metropolitan Police Department the authority to enforce the ban and fine people who violate the law. It would not ban the use of fireworks by professional pyrotechnics handlers.

The District, like 39 states, allows certain types of fireworks such as sparklers and fountains and bans explosives or fireworks that leave the ground, which are generally considered more dangerous.

However, data from a 2006 report by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) found that 21 percent of fireworks-related injuries were caused by sparklers, the same as by firecrackers.

In 2005, fireworks caused an estimated 1,800 structure fires and 700 vehicle fires nationally, according to a NFPA report.

The fires injured about 60 people and caused $39 million in direct property damage.

In 2006, about 9,200 people were treated at emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries.

Mr. Graham said the bill would allow officials to more efficiently enforce laws regulating fireworks, which is time consuming under the current guidelines.

“When the police or firefighters show up on the scene, they have to consult the guidelines as to what’s legal,” he said. “The list is 14 pages long.”

Mr. Graham said the bill is “very popular” among residents, but he was not sure whether it would have enough support from the council to pass without a hearing.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said he would vote against the ban because he thinks the city should focus on doing a better job at enforcement.

“There are illegal fireworks in the District,” said Mr. Mendelson, chairman of the council’s public safety committee. “Focus on the illegal fireworks.”

Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, said he strongly supports the ban but worries that the council will either reject it or postpone voting until hearings can be held.

Mr. Wells said he was considering proposing an amendment to the bill that would enact an 11 p.m. curfew on the use of fireworks after talking to representatives from TNT Fireworks who contacted him in opposition to the ban.

Company spokesman Patrick Burns said that a complete ban would only hurt the District.

“It will increase the use of illegal products and promote the use of those products that are illegal now,” he said.

Mr. Fenty stands by the ban as a way to eliminate danger to residents and to keep neighborhoods peaceful and clean.

“The time has come to once and for all extinguish these dangerous devices,” Mr. Fenty said Friday. “This legislation will bring us in line with neighboring jurisdictions in recognizing that the safety of our residents must be preserved.”

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