Fireworks ban idea fizzles with voters

KINGSTON — The issue was supposed to be about public versus private and safety versus liability.

But it was the unforeseen tribal versus non-tribal idea that ended up extinguishing the issue of banning personal fireworks use in Kitsap County.

Preliminary counts show about 55 percent of Kitsap residents voting “no” and 45 percent voting “yes” on an advisory ballot issue over whether local bans on personal fireworks use should be enacted.

The Nov. 2 vote was proposed by the Kitsap County Fire Chiefs Association in September and consequently approved for the ballot by all four cities and the county commissioners.

North Kitsap Fire & Rescue Chief Paul Nichol said the vote was suggested to help councils decide whether or not a ban was appropriate.

In the last few years, fire officials have noted increased burdens in dealing with the Fourth of July festivities. The past two summers have been drier than normal, leading to perfect conditions for brush fires.

“In 2003, our equipment was out on July 4 from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. straight, they were just going from call to call to call,” Nichol recalled.

Many strong reactions were received from people who felt such bans would be impeding on their rights to celebrate Independence Day.

“I was young once, too,” Nichol said. “I used to buy sparklers and things like that and thought they were pretty neat until I got into the fire service and saw the damage they could do and the impacts of that.”

But the bigger foe of the vote appeared to have to do with nearby tribes — the Suquamish and S’Klallam that would still be allowed to sell fireworks regardless of a local ban. Tribes are bound by federal law rather than county or city ordinance.

“I’ve talked to people who said they were against fireworks but who were going to vote against this because it didn’t address the Indian stands,” Nichol said. “I think there were a lot of people who voted against this because they didn’t want to restrict non-natives from doing what natives can do.”

Though most major cities in Washington already ban fireworks, Nichol said he felt the margin indicated that a ban was not likely anywhere in Kitsap. He said he was disappointed but would stand by the decision.

“That’s what we wanted to do, get it on the ballot and let the people have a voice,” he said.

Nichol added he doesn’t foresee any other local attempts to promote bans, rather he’s turning his attention to a statewide ban attempt he sees coming down the pipeline no earlier than two years from now.

“We’ll just knuckle down and do the jobs we need to do. It’s just unfortunate,” he said.

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