PO Councilmembers remain torn on personal fireworks ban

The Port Orchard City Council returned to the table May 21 to reconsider a ban on personal fireworks two years after voting against such an ordinance.

The council resumed talks surrounding the 2022 resolution on the recommendation of the city’s Land Use Committee. The resolution would have banned the use and sale of personal fireworks within city limits beginning in 2023, but the council’s majority cited issues with enforcement and a lack of public survey participation in a 5-2 vote.

Councilman Jay Rosapepe, whose emergency absence from April’s work study delayed the conversation for a month, introduced the subject again. He presented no room for concession in his introduction, calling the significant fire dangers “a disaster waiting to happen” and the dangers of loud noises and explosions very real. “We should consider the impact of noise on veterans and first responders who experience PTSD, newborn babies, the elderly, household pets and wildlife that have no shelter,” he said.

Rosapepe voiced his approval for a return to the public for feedback in a new survey, the previous one having shown a low level of respondents approving a ban by a 2-1 ratio.

Yet similar debates that faced himself and Councilmember Scott Diener regarding enforceability were quick to dominate the conversation. Councilmember John Morrissey cited what he believes is the confusing nature of the city limits and what it could mean for residents unsure about the new rules. “Our city boundaries are the wonkiest I’ve ever seen, and to know what is county versus what is city, people may have a hard time, especially on a holiday when you are generally not in your own home,” he said.

Councilmember Eric Worden added that issues with enforcement of such a law would keep him from wanting to take action. He said, “If the county gets on board, I will be on board. If the county’s not on board, we don’t have the enforcement for it.”

Others believe Port Orchard residents would be largely accepting and compliant with such a law. Diener said, “I think most people are good people. Most people will consider what we’ve done, and many will frankly appreciate it.”

One complaint against a ban is selling such fireworks are fundraisers for nonprofits.

Such an issue, Diener continued, should not be about monetary losses or interests. “There are other opportunities to make money. This just happens to be a quick and easy one. I think it’s about what the residents want, and seven in ten residents, maybe more, would vote for a ban.”

South Kitsap Fire and Rescue Chief Jeff Faucett said 4th of July regularly results in higher call volumes as do other large gatherings, but in the past three years, calls have increased by only 10-15 calls.

“You have an agency like mine that’s running 13,000 calls and averages about forty per day, an increase of fifteen calls isn’t that dramatic,” he said. “We do up staff. We bring in additional career staff, and we bring in additional volunteers through those days, but overall, we don’t see a huge impact on fire response.”

Using data since 1999, Faucett said the most firework-related fires was 10 in 2015. Six fires were reported last year, four in 2022 and seven in 2021.

One increase the department noted was dollar loss as a result of the fires. Two fires in each of 2022 and 2023 originated or developed into structure fires, resulting in just over $1 million in damage.

From this data and the 2022 survey, the council entertained multiple courses of action. These included another survey, taking no action, enacting protected zones or even putting the resolution forward to voters.

Rosapepe remained set on an “all or nothing” approach, even asking in response to questions from Councilmember Heidi Fenton, “How many injuries or fires do we need to make it a safety issue?”

Worden hinted that the issue could be best resolved by voters. “We have to make tough decisions as City Council,” he said. “Not everything goes to an election, and that’s what we’re elected for. But to me, this is something that actually involves everybody.”