The Tenino City Council passed an ordinance on first reading Tuesday that would significantly limit the dates when it would be legal to discharge legal fireworks within city limits.
Should Ordinance 905 be affirmed on second reading at the Aug. 27 council meeting, use of fireworks in Tenino would be allowed only from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on July 3, 10 a.m. to midnight on July 4, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on July 5 and 6 p.m. on Dec. 31 to 1 a.m. on Jan. 1. The city currently abides by state law, which allows fireworks to be set off from June 28 through July 5 as well as on New Year’s Eve.
Council member Linda Gotovac requested the ordinance be brought for consideration following a discussion last month about the negative experiences of some residents as a result of the annual festivities. The combination of increased wildfire risk and detriment to populations such as the elderly and those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has led a number of cities — Tumwater, Olympia and Lacey among them — to limit or ban outright the use of commercial fireworks.
Ordinance 905 cites “two decades of conflict that has seen many disabled veterans, some of whom suffer from PTSD, choosing Tenino as their place of residence” and “the aging population of many of Tenino’s long-term residents no longer appreciate the noise and mess associated with fireworks” as reasons for the proposed changes.
If the ordinance is formally adopted later this month, it would not impact a holiday until Dec. 31, 2020. State law mandates that ordinances regulating the use of fireworks more severely than the state do not take effect until one year after it is signed into city code.
“There was a good dialogue and it was fairly unanimous that it was reasonable to limit the number of days,” Tenino Mayor Wayne Fournier said. “Councilor (John) O’Callahan had concerns that decreasing the number of days would decrease the sales done by our Little League as a fundraiser. But the rest of the council didn’t think it outweighed the other concerns, and I think it wound up being a 4-1 vote.”
O’Callahan confirmed Thursday that he cast the lone vote against the ordinance. He defended his reasons for concern, citing his career in sales, while also expressing his belief that to enact such an ordinance would encroach on the manner in which citizens have celebrated the Fourth of July dating back to the days of the Founding Fathers.
O’Callahan added that he wished other council members would set their emotions aside and look at the issue strictly from a policy standpoint. Even if a city enact limits on when and where people can shoot off fireworks, he said, there will still be a similar number of bad apples looking to spoil the bunch.
“When you drive stuff on emotion, you just look at the bad elements and concentrate on them,” O’Callahan said. “If you look at what’s happening, we’re actually punishing the people who aren’t doing the wrong things. If you have one person playing with a match on their front porch and you tell everyone they can’t have matches … Laws don’t stop people from doing anything.
“What laws are meant to do is set up a set of rules to say ‘these are the thing we do not agree with and if you do these things, and you get caught, we are going to punish you.’ When you start making rules that affect everyone in your community because of a few people you haven’t been able to catch, then what’s next? When I’m gone, are they actually going to get rid of fireworks in the city of Tenino?”
O’Callahan later claimed that during his 30 years living in the Tenino area, he could not recall a single instance of someone suffering a serious injury or a major structure fire caused by fireworks.
He admitted being unaware of the rules and regulations associated with fireworks in Washington when he first moved to Tenino. The Police Chief at the time went to where O’Callahan and friends were using illegal fireworks and informed them of the law, which they have not since violated.
“I’m realistic,” O’Callahan said. “Am I going to win this argument? I doubt it, but I’m going to make the argument.”