By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
CONCORD — A bill to legalize firecrackers in New Hampshire could lure customers back from Maine and help fireworks stores here, many merchants say, but critics point to a public-safety risk.
Senate Bill 23, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, faces opposition from fire chiefs, including Laconia Fire Chief Kenneth Erickson, who said the use of firecrackers in crowded places could simulate the sound of gunfire and cause panic.
A brick of firecrackers — also called "salutes" — can deliver "a tremendous amount of little explosions," Erickson said.
"There are several concerns with salutes in general, one is there are 20 salutes to a pack, you throw that into an area with a lot of people, and that could easily be construed as gunfire," he said.
House Bill 100, which exempts toy smoke devices from the prohibition on the sale or use of smoke bombs, also could cause problems, Erickson said.
"Throw a smoke bomb in a building, and again, you can create panic," he said.
"The real concern in today's day and age is some kid throwing a pack of salutes or a smoke bomb into a crowd," Erickson said.
"It's really a concern about what they can do to a crowd," he added of firecrackers. "They distinctively sound like gunfire."
Area fireworks stores were divided, with Fireworks of Tilton predicting little change in sales if the bill passed. Multiple-shot fireworks are among the most popular items there, and customers rarely ask for firecrackers, store staff reported.
Others, such as Atlas Fireworks in Belmont, field frequent questions from customers about firecrackers (personnel at the Belmont store deferred specific questions to the Atlas corporate office).
Fireworks Over The Border in Seabrook reported in an email that the bill could be helpful to the industry. "Firecrackers are not powerful, and like anything else, used properly, pose no problem. Its passage will return the New Hampshire customer back from Maine," the store reported in an email.
Rob Jacobs, owner of JPI Pyrotechnics LLC. in Allenstown, told the Laconia Daily Sun via email that he sells "display" fireworks for events, but he said he understands the retail perspective.
"From an industry standpoint, regulation certainly curtails business traffic," Jacobs wrote. "Our state and federal government write regulations for fireworks based on an extreme few number of mishaps, but when an injury occurs, even very minor ones, it then becomes a rally cry for government to make a new rule. Fighting back from those rules is daunting."
In the retail arena, "firecrackers are indeed 'big business' bringing revenue to the state," Jacobs wrote. "Firecrackers, which are used properly, are essentially harmless. If not used properly, they can cause burns, noise pollution, and other more serious injuries. The same thing can happen if you mis-use your blow dryer or a BB gun you can buy at Kmart for your 8-year-old! I know that allowing firecrackers into NH will be a big hit with retailers and I believe the general public will embrace it. It's this same group who's pushing to get it legalized here in New Hampshire. Cities and towns can place whatever ordinance they can pass to allow, or not allow them — that aspect sort of makes the state's position moot."
Erickson said firecrackers, like smoke bombs, are not a major fire threat but rather a hazard in the instance of panicking groups of people.
And one legislator in a hearing reasoned that nobody would set off firecrackers indoors — a position that betrayed a lack of familiarity with human nature, Erickson said.
Erickson received a Dec. 29, 2016 bulletin from the Division of Fire Safety, Office of the State Fire Marshal, which reported "a new trend" in New Hampshire involving "bottle sparkler" and "dessert sparkler" fireworks devices being used in nightclubs or similar venues, in clear violation of the safety warnings on these devices.
"I haven't heard of any being used in Laconia," Erickson said, but he cautioned that expansion of the fireworks law could create risk.
"It can lead to serious consequences," he said.
According to a June 30, 2016, list from the state fire marshal's office, Belknap County communities that prohibit consumer fireworks include Alton and Gilford (permissible with prohibitions). Laconia does not restrict consumer fireworks beyond state rules, according to the fire department.
In Meredith, a town ordinance stipulates that "the discharge of any fireworks requires a permit. Permits are available at the town website http://www.meredithnh.org/Joomla/files/fireworks_permit.pdf and must be submitted 15 days prior to the date requested. Fines from $50-$1,000 can result from discharging fireworks without a permit."
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