A prospective fireworks ban found little support on the Toledo City Council, but in lieu of making a hasty “emotional” decision Tuesday, the council asked city staff to do some research before it chose whether or not to follow suit with several other Lincoln County cities.
Toledo Mayor Rod Cross brought a request by the Lincoln County Fire Defense Board before the council during its regular meeting Wednesday evening to discuss whether or not Toledo should enact a ban on personal fireworks starting this summer, given rising annual fire danger within Lincoln County.
The Fire Defense Board previously released an open letter asking municipalities within Lincoln County to enact any respective fireworks ban ordinances before Jan. 1 so they would take effect in time for 2022’s Fourth of July holiday weekend. The letter also voices the board’s support for professional fireworks shows in lieu of personal fireworks and provides data on many of the negative effects fireworks can have on communities.
Despite being past the board’s requested deadline, Cross noted that Toledo, as a city with its own fire district, could opt to enforce a ban without prior notice using an emergency declaration, making the Jan. 1 deadline moot.
The idea of a ban wasn’t very popular with the council, however, with Cross himself leading the discussion with his reasoning against it.
“My huge question in all of this is number one enforcement, which is really big, and the other is that if you look around the county, at least two major fundraisers for two local nonprofits are through fireworks,” Cross said.
Councilor Betty Kamikawa, speaking on behalf of Grace Wins Haven, said that the nonprofit used fireworks as a source of fundraising for the first time this year and it was very successful, noting it hoped to do so again in future years.
Cross then spoke on behalf of the Toledo Summer Festival, which he said can only happen every year through fundraising through the sale of personal fireworks.
“I’ve got to stand up for the Toledo Summer Festival,” Cross said. “This is their big money maker, and it’s where they get the lion’s share of their money every year. If we kill personal fireworks here, we also end up killing the big show.”
Councilor Tracy Mix argued it wasn’t right to take away some residents’ right to use personal fireworks simply because others might misbehave and use them improperly or break the law. Other members of council argued that a ban would do little to stop those using fireworks illegally already.
Councilor Wade Carey asked that the rest of the council stop and consider the issue from a more objective viewpoint, arguing it shouldn’t rush to make a decision based on emotion and nostalgia for the annual tradition of fireworks.
“There is some hazard to these devices, and no matter what laws we put in place or bans we enact, there will also be people who find their way around those, but I don’t think our decision should be based on emotions,” Carey said. “I’d like staff to do some research and look at some actual statistics of areas that have enacted bans within the last five years and see what sort of effect they’ve had.
“If we’re going to think that a ban might save fires, fingers and rooftops or any of those sorts of things,” Carey continued, “I think we need to look at the data before making any decisions.”
The rest of the council agreed that more data on the effect of a ban would be helpful, while Cross also asked city staff to look into what kind of fines could be enacted for a violation of such a ban, noting that if it were only a “slap on the wrist” then it likely wouldn’t be worth the effort.
Toledo Police Chief Michael Pace and Toledo Fire Chief Larry Robeson both said their departments simply wouldn’t have the resources to enforce any sort of personal fireworks ban at this time, an issue he said all cities within the county were already having.
Pace added that given the last two years of restrictions under the COVID-19 pandemic, the loss of another “right” might go over poorly with the public.
Robeson added that, technically, fireworks use was already banned during high fire danger through burn bans limiting the use of an fire-related devices without a shutoff valve, though not explicitly fireworks.
Toledo legal counsel David Robinson said a public outreach program asking Toledo residents to voluntarily curb their firework use would likely be a better alternative to a ban.
Ultimately, any decision regarding a potential ban was left for a future meeting.