Safety would be improved if Abbotsford eased its rules on the use and sale of fireworks, the executive director of the Canadian National Fireworks Association told council Monday.
But statistics from Fire Chief Don Beer of Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service suggest that the number of fires caused by the devices dropped dramatically when the city introduced its current bylaw a decade ago.
Since 2005, the city has banned the sale, possession and discharge of fireworks without a permit, which can only be obtained by a licensed and trained pyrotechnician.
At Monday’s council meeting, Mary Di Mambro, the executive director of the Canadian National Fireworks Association, asked the city to reconsider its bylaw.
Di Mambro said the current rules lead people intent on buying fireworks to buy illegal and unsafe devices from unauthorized dealers. Making the sale of fireworks legal would lead to the purchase of safer, regulated devices, she said.
“The ones that are deemed legal are actually very safe when used according to guidelines,” Di Mambro said. “You have people who are celebrating who are breaching the law every time they use a firework.”
After being asked for any stats on the effect of the current bylaw, Beer said the years preceding the bylaw’s introduction saw dozens of fires blamed on the use of fireworks, with 39 such incidents in 2003 alone. One year preceding the ban saw three “significant burn injuries to youth,” which Beer said was a key catalyst in the adoption of the bylaw. And then-mayor Mary Reeves had a close call one evening while on a ride-along with the firefighters when she narrowly avoided being injured by a thrown incendiary device.
In the years since, Beer said fireworks have caused a handful of fires, including a structure fire that saw a man injured. Beer said education of the public has also helped decrease the number of incidents.
Calls regarding illegal fireworks increase around Halloween, but are relatively rare around Canada Day, a fact Beer attributed to the city’s own display on July 1.
However, Mayor Henry Braun said he has seen an increase in the illegal use of fireworks recently. And in 2012, fire officials reported they had confiscated around 50 pounds of fireworks. Abbotsford’s bylaw includes the possibility of a $200 fine for the unlawful possession or use of fireworks, or a $500 fine for sale of the devices.
Although no councillors suggested they would like to see the fireworks ban overturned, council voted to ask staff to return with a report on fireworks incidents and other related statistics.
Couns. Moe Gill and Patricia Ross opposed receiving another report, with Gill suggesting he had no inclination to consider making it easier to possess fireworks in Abbotsford.
The situation prior to the bylaw was “out of control,” he said. “They were going off everywhere.”