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Mercer Kiwanis continues fireworks tradition

Three-year-old Gareth Tatum peers over the counter of the Kiwanis fireworks stand at the Rite Aid parking lot on June 28 while his father, Roger, chooses some Fourth of July goods. - Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter
Three-year-old Gareth Tatum peers over the counter of the Kiwanis fireworks stand at the Rite Aid parking lot on June 28 while his father, Roger, chooses some Fourth of July goods.
— image credit: Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter

An annual tradition, the Mercer Island Kiwanis Club has set up its famous fireworks stand in the Rite Aid parking lot once again. Children and their parents line up outside the painted wooden shed, debating over a clutter of choices: sparklers, spinners and jacks, Roman candles, “Molotov cocktails” and more. All of which, according to state law, are safe enough for domestic use. And as long as they are lit only on July 4, the fireworks that Kiwanis Club sells are entirely legal for Mercer Island.

Yet some members of the Mercer Island City Council believe that the city should ban the sale of fireworks on Mercer Island, citing safety issues as the reason.

On May 4, the City Council debated, once again, whether Kiwanis should be allowed to sell fireworks at Rite Aid as its primary fundraiser. The alternative would mean that Kiwanis would have to search for another way to raise approximately $18,000; all of which goes back to the community. Kiwanis members have discussed the option in years past, but they have yet to brainstorm an alternative fundraiser to firework sales.

“The fire chief at various times has tried to cease sales, but people really rose up and said, ‘It’s a tradition. We want these fireworks,”’ said Kiwanis Club member Bob Faine, who has been active with the organization for years.

Faine added that Kiwanis has sold fireworks on Mercer Island for more than 30 years. He could not recall one tragic accident resulting from this history. Those incidents that he has heard about, Faine said, were caused by illegal fireworks obtained from Indian reservations.

“Our fireworks are safe and sane. They are more visual, and for kids. We’ve had a really good safety record — 30 years without any incidents,” he said.

But Mercer Island Fire Department statistics show that, whether the cause is illegal or legal fireworks, several dangerous incidents occur each year on the Fourth of July. Most of the problems, said Fire Chief Chris Tubbs, are small brush or roof fires.

In 2008, four incidents were reported; three brush fires and one smoking incident. The year before, only a rubbish fire was reported, while in 2006 a structure fire was called in, as well as a roof fire and brush fire. Not one personal injury has been documented in at least the past five years, according to available department statistics.

“Mercer Island, as communities go, has a fairly good track record. There have been no injuries reported to the fire department [in recent years],” Tubbs said.

Mercer Island is one of few cities in the Lake Washington area that allows consumer fireworks, which are defined as “any small firework device designed to produce visible effects by combustion and which must comply with the construction, chemical composition and labeling regulations of the United States consumer product safety commission.” This includes ground devices that contain 50 mg or less of explosive materials and aerial devices that contain 130 mg or less of explosive materials.

Almost all of Mercer Island’s surrounding cities, including Seattle, Bellevue, Renton, Kirkland and Issaquah, have banned commercial fireworks in recent years. And if it were up to Councilmember Mike Grady, Mercer Island would join this group.

“We’ve yet to ban fireworks on Mercer Island, so it’s become a haven for people with both legal or illegal fireworks to come and light them off,” Grady said during the Council’s May 4 discussion over approving a firework sales permit for Kiwanis.

Councilmember Mike Cero countered that, if the city were to ban the sale of consumer fireworks, this could redirect youth toward buying illegal fireworks and therefore increase the risk of injuries.

In order to ban the sale of consumer fireworks on Mercer Island, the city would have to impose a ban one year prior to the Fourth of July.

During the May 4 Council discussion, the Council voted to go ahead with issuing Kiwanis a sales permit, despite words of protest from Councilmember Grady.

“I challenge Kiwanis to come forward and find additional ways to earn money,” he said.

The rest of the Council agreed to approve the 2009 sales permit, allowing Kiwanis to run its fireworks stand from June 28 until the evening of July 4. The city still prohibits the use of consumer fireworks on any day other than July 4, as well as in public areas such as schools or parks.

For information on firework safety and King County laws, visit: www.kingcounty.gov/.property/FireMarshal/fireworks.aspx.

King County fireworks law and safety:

* Fireworks may be discharged only on July 4 from 9 a.m. to midnight.

* Fireworks sales are legal beginning at noon on June 28 until 11 p.m. and then daily between the hours of 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. through July 4. No sales can occur after July 4.

* To purchase fireworks, you must be at least 16 years of age with picture identification.

* Use only approved, legal, and common fireworks from reliable Washington State and King County Fire Marshal licensed retailers.

* Always have a responsible adult light all fireworks.

* Have a charged garden hose or a fire extinguisher handy.

* Use fireworks under outdoor conditions only, away from buildings, houses with wood shingles, trees, and dry fields.

* Avoid aerial type fireworks.

* Light one item at a time, move away quickly, and keep a safe distance away.

* Dispose of used fireworks by first soaking them in water.

* Ensure the safety of pets.

* Use eye protection.

* Remember your neighbors and clean up all debris.

* If a device does not light or fire, an adult should wait at least a minimum of five minutes before approaching the device.

* Remember, if it has a stick or fins and it goes up or if it blows up, it is illegal in Washington State.

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