Cumberland Town Council OKs partial fireworks ban

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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council voted 4-3 Monday to ban the use of consumer fireworks all but five days of the year, and voted unanimously to prohibit the sale of fireworks.

A state law that takes effect Jan. 1, 2012, legalizes consumer fireworks, but allows municipalities to enact local restrictions on use and sale. Area towns including Falmouth, Freeport, North Yarmouth and Yarmouth have already banned the sale and use.

In Cumberland, consumer fireworks – as opposed to larger display fireworks – will only be allowed July 3 from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., July 4 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 a.m., July 5 from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Dec. 31 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 a.m., and Jan. 1 from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

People who violate the ordinance will be fined $200.

Councilors Mike Perfetti, Shirley Storey-King, Steve Moriarty and George Turner supported the action, while Tom Gruber, Bill Stiles and Ron Copp opposed it.

The motion followed one that failed 4-3 and would have banned the sale and use every day of the year. Perfetti, Storey-King, Turner and Stiles voted against that motion, while Gruber, Moriarty and Copp favored it.

Moriarty, who served on a subcommittee charged with developing a fireworks ordinance, noted that Cumberland can only govern consumer fireworks, and that “the larger fireworks, that burst in the sky, that we watch on the Fourth of July and so forth, are governed entirely by the state and not by towns.”

He noted that “I have not heard from anybody who has said, ‘we need more noise in our neighborhoods.’ I haven’t heard anybody tell me that ‘I want to live where firecrackers can go off any time of day,'” or any day of the year, at random.

Moriarty pointed out that the illegality of sale and use has served as a deterrent for many people.

Doug Pride, a licensed fireworks technician from Cumberland, told councilors the town should do nothing and allow the new state fireworks law to take effect. He noted that fireworks were common in the 1940s and 1950s, and that people were getting hurt as a result, which is why most states banned them.

But since then they have become much safer, he said.

“Cherry bombs and M-80s … you cannot buy them anywhere in the United States; they’re illegal everywhere,” Pride said. “The only thing you can get in the way of consumer fireworks are these little firecrackers that have a maximum of 50 milligrams of powder in them.”

John Leavitt, a forest ranger from Greely Road who has been a wild-land firefighter for 21 years, said he has seen the downside of fireworks.

“They do cause wildfires, and there are national statistics to prove that,” he said, noting that he has also seen numerous injuries caused by the devices.

“I believe one of the reasons the Legislature passed this law was to possibly create some type of financial stimulus,” Leavitt said, “… and I take exception to that, because when I see children, particularly, who lose a finger, an eye or an ear, I can’t see how any financial benefit (the state or communities) would realize would be offset by the cost and loss to that family and that child.”

But Pride argued that fireworks injuries are “way overstated.”

“If you look at statistics, fireworks are at the bottom of the list for injuries,” he said. “Bicycles, swimming, hunting, fishing, you name it, everything has (a) higher injury rate and fatality rate than fireworks.”

Turner called the matter “a freedom issue,” noting that “for us to sit here and micromanage what our fellow citizens can do, that generally speaking is relatively safe … it’s a no-brainer to at least allow the celebration around the Fourth of July.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.