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Safe or not, Mercer Island City Council approves fireworks

Every year, city nonprofit organizations that hope to sell ‘safe and sane’ fireworks in the parking lot of the Mercer Island Shopping Center, at the corner of S.E. 32nd street and 78th Avenue S.E., must seek approval from the fire department, then apply for a special permit to be approved by the City Council.

In the past, the Kiwanis Club has managed the fireworks stand and has used this event as their primary fundraiser. Money from the sale of the fireworks is returned to the community for scholarships and service projects. However, this year, the Kiwanis Club partnered with the Mercer Island Masonic Lodge and Mercer Island VFW to manage the sale of fireworks and split the proceeds.

But as it does every year, the Council debates whether or not fireworks should be allowed at all on the Island.

There have been several changes over the years to the code. In 1992, the City Council reduced the number of days that legal fireworks could be set off, from 9 days to 2 days. Two years later, Island citizens were surveyed on whether or not to ban fireworks. Out of 1,400 respondents, 55 percent voted for a ban. Instead, the Council decided to limit fireworks discharge to July Fourth only, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., a rule that still stands.

In 2005, former Fire Chief Walt Mauldin recommended that the Council ban fireworks completely. But the Council voted to keep the current ordinance and increase public education and enforcement.

In 2009, the Council reduced the time frame for the sale of fireworks to a one-week period, July 4.

City Fire Chief Chris Tubbs signed off on the initial permit and presented it to the Council on May 20.

At the meeting, Councilman Mike Grady was incredulous that the community service groups were still wanting to sell fireworks.

Speaking for several minutes, Grady referred to fireworks as “gateway explosives,” followed by “I can’t believe that you (the Kiwanis, the VFW and the Freemasons) are selling dangerous things to our kids.”

John Gebhart, who represented  the group said that workers at the stand check ID and only sell to buyers over 16. He added that most people who purchase the items are parents. The fireworks are ‘safe and sane’ types of devices.

Fire Chief Tubbs noted that his department has not had any injuires over the past few years.

“We do not ‘upstaff’ for July 4. That might be counterintuitive,” he said, “but our history shows that the risk seems very low,” he added, referring to the data that his department collects. “People here are very responsible about consumer fireworks.”

Chief Tubbs said that he and City Police Chief Ed Holmes talk often about issues related to fireworks. He said that there are complaints about noise, but there are few and neither department tracks them.

Councilmember Tana Senn and mayor Bruce Bassett also expressed their reluctance about allowing fireworks on the Island, but agreed that allowing consumer fireworks on the Island keeps illegal fireworks at bay.

The Council voted 5 to 1 to approve the permit.

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