British Columbia is one of the few provinces (if not the only one) where fireworks are sold and used on Halloween; I put on a community show every year at a local school, and there are other shows in various locales.

In addition to the responsible use of fireworks, though, there are always people who screw things up for others - this year, for example, a pet store was damaged by a fire caused, authorities suspect, by someone shooting a roman candle through a mail slot and over on Vancouver Island, a teenager was seriously injured when either a pipe bomb or a firework placed in a copper pipe (reports vary) exploded and he was hit in the head/face with shrapnel.

Serves the little bastard right for being a dumbass (metal pipe and fireworks? WTF???), as far as I’m concerned…but I digress. At least he was 18.

Every year there are people who abuse fireworks - there are plenty of kids setting things off despite laws that you must be at least 18 to buy or use them, which means that either they’re buying them illegally, stealing them, or some asshole of an adult is buying them for the little darlings and letting them run amok.

This also means that every year, there are people who clamor for a ban on fireworks.

You’d think that as someone who holds the highest level of display fireworks license offered by the federal government I’d be happy to see local municipalities taking steps to ban the illegal use of fireworks…but you’d be wrong. It’s not that I have a problem with putting laws in place to restrict the use and sale of fireworks - I don’t - but most of them are trying to use a tactical nuke to sway a fly. What really annoys me is when people write letters to the editor of the local papers and demand bans because they keep hearing kids setting off fireworks and firecrackers, when:

1) Kids (i.e. under 18) shouldn’t be setting off fireworks at all;
2) Firecrackers are restricted even more than regular fireworks - they’re similar to display fireworks (those big beautiful shells you see on Canada Day or July 4) in the sense that you’re supposed to have your permits and property permissions in place before you can buy them.


Ahem…damn, the oxygen level is rather thin up here on this soapbox; I’d better step down.

(deep breath)

There, that’s better. Now, where was I? Oh yes…

The following is the text of a speech that I gave to the Vancouver City Council this past September when they were looking at passing a bylaw requiring anybody wishing to set off what are called “family fireworks” (roman candles, fountains, etc. - hell, even sparklers!) to have a Display Fireworks Supervisor license issued by the federal Explosives Regulatory Division:

Good morning (afternoon); thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

I am here to express my concerns regarding the Policy Report currently under review, and to provide alternatives to certain proposals in the report.

Before I begin, I would like to provide a brief personal background:

1) I hold a Level 2 Fireworks Supervisor license as well as a Theatrical Pyrotechnician license.
2) I have assisted the Explosives Regulatory Division with both Display and Theatrical training courses by providing the practical portion of the courses that cover proper firing and safety procedures.

My main concern involves the recommendation that a federal Display Supervisor license is required to discharge family fireworks. This is impractical for the following reasons:

1) The Display Fireworks course does not cover family fireworks; such a course would be excessive in regards to safety and procedures for most areas and deficient for others.
2) Display fireworks courses are not held on a frequent basis; the ERD holds them in various locations across the country usually once a year –while there were 4 classes held in British Columbia in 2006, only one of these was held in the Greater Vancouver area…and that was in May.
3) Before someone receives their Display Supervisor license they must work on at least 3 display fireworks shows over a 5 year period which means that the person has to be lucky, or resourceful, enough to obtain work on enough shows –family fireworks shows do not count towards this license.

This means that even if people took the display course this year because of proposed requirements such as this – and I know from personal experience that a number of people did take the course for this reason – it is extremely unlikely that they would have been able to obtain their Display Supervisor license for this Halloween, and would quite possibly not have it for 2007 either. This would appear to contradict the part of the report claiming that there is sufficient lead time for people to obtain the necessary licenses before next Halloween. Also, I do not know if anyone has discussed this with the ERD so I do not know if their infrastructure extends to increasing the number of classes or adding family fireworks training to the course.

The report also mentions that “…the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has been lobbying the United States Government to ban the use of Consumer Fireworks.” While this is true to a certain extent, the International Fire Marshalls Association’s 2006 Model Fireworks Law makes reference to displays being “…handled by a competent operator, licensed or certified as to competency by” – and I would like to emphasize this - “the authority having jurisdiction.” I will return to this later, as it is important to my recommendations.

Regarding the report’s mention of environmental and social implications, I would suggest that the people who would modify and/or discharge family fireworks in violation of any bylaws are likely to do so regardless of whether they can legally purchase fireworks in Vancouver or not. You can compare fireworks to alcohol and tobacco – if underage people want it badly enough, they will find a way to get it, either by finding someone who will sell it to them illegally or who will buy it for them illegally.

I do not object to the idea of restricting who can purchase and discharge family fireworks, but I believe that the report as it stands is overly restrictive and does not take into consideration my stated concerns regarding the current licensing process for fireworks supervisors. To that end, I would like to make the following recommendations:

1) Because of the points I have mentioned, I would request that any decision on this report be postponed pending further review.
2) Instead of requiring a Display Supervisor license to discharge family fireworks, I would suggest that a special “family fireworks” course and license be developed, either at a municipal or federal level, that would provide proper training and allow the authorities having jurisdiction to be assured that the person discharging the fireworks is qualified. To that end, I am offering my services to help develop and operate such a course.
a. An alternative would be to allow those people who have taken and passed the ERD Display Supervisor course – now classed as Apprentices - to be able to purchase and discharge family fireworks.
3) The report mentions a permit fee paid by fireworks vendors and says that it doesn’t cover costs, but it doesn’t mention a fee for a show permit. If there is no fee currently being charged, the city should consider implementing such a fee. I have done shows or training courses in Surrey, Burnaby and Pitt Meadows and all have charged a fee, ranging from $100 to $200. In addition, if my proposal for a family fireworks course is accepted a fee can be charged to cover the costs of the course.

Thank you for your time.

The result: 4 hours after speeches from me and groups such as fireworks distributors, the SPCA, Children’s Hospital and the Vancouver police and fire departments as well as various questions being asked and answered, council passed a resolution that:

1) “Nuisance fireworks” (those that only make noise) would not be sold this Halloween.
2) The fire dept. should get together with the fireworks distributors and develop a preliminary training program for family fireworks, a first draft to be ready by mid-February of 2007.

I don’t know if I’m going to be called upon to make good on my offer to help with such a program but I will gladly do so if asked; as it is, I’ll be calling my distributor contacts soon to ask them if they’ve been contacted by the fire dept. and if not - well, we’ll just have to take it one step at a time.

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