If Squamish's fire chief has his way, those who want to legally enjoy a fireworks display within district boundaries will soon have to attend an organized, professionally run event.
Municipal councillors, though, on Tuesday (Feb. 11) asked that Fire Chief Russ Inouye come up with an alternative to a complete ban on home fireworks displays that would likely involve the issuance of permits for neighbourhood displays.
“I think we should make it safe for the community, but I don't think an out-and-out ban is realistic,” Coun. Bryan Raiser said during a discussion of the proposed new Fire Service Bylaw at council's Committee of the Whole meeting.
The updated bylaw would also require that residents obtain an annual permit if they want to be allowed to have backyard campfires.
There is currently no provision for the sale and purchase of fireworks in the District of Squamish. Many purchase them on First Nations reserves — which are outside the District of Squamish's jurisdiction, Inouye told lawmakers. Those selling fireworks on reserves are prohibited from selling them to anyone under 19, Inouye said.
The ban on the sale of fireworks within the district would continue under the proposed new bylaw, he said.
If adopted, the revised bylaw brought before council on Tuesday would read, “A person must not light, set off, discharge or detonate fireworks anywhere within the District, except in strict accordance with a permit issued by the Fire Chief under this Bylaw.”
To obtain such a permit, event organizers would be required to provide an event description including a time schedule and attending emergency responders, an approved fire safety plan and a site plan including provisions for traffic control, parking and spectator viewing areas, the document states.
As well, persons handling the fireworks would be required to hold at least valid Supervisor's Level 1 Certification under the Explosives Safety and Security Brand of Natural Resources Canada.
Inouye said such a ban would go a long way toward ensuring public safety by reducing the risk of fireworks-related accidents and of structure or wildland fires.
While he said he enjoys a good fireworks display himself, most municipalities in the Lower Mainland have banned the discharge of fireworks.
“Only about 20 per cent of fireworks discharges are properly supervised. I've seen a lot of really explosive fireworks — rockets that shoot 50 or 60 feet into the air” that had the potential to start structures or vegetation on fire, Inouye said.
Raiser, though, said he didn't think a complete ban on neighbourhood fireworks displays was realistic or enforceable. Robin Arthurs, DOS corporate services general manager, said that whatever new restrictions are adopted, officials would take steps to educate the community about what's required.
“That includes presentations at the schools [and elsewhere] saying, for example, that if you don't get a permit and you have a big Halloween display, there are consequences,” Arthurs said.
Coun. Ron Sander said he understood the need to promote safety, but would like to find a way to avoid an outright ban — by, for example, requiring that “neighbourhood captains” undergo some sort of training in the handling of fireworks.
Coun. Patricia Heintzman, however, voiced support for such a ban.
“Having an irrational fear of fireworks, I think I’m OK with a ban on fireworks,” she said. “I’m sure thousands of dogs in town will thank us for this.”
As for the proposal to require campfire permits, Inouye said, “We have left language in here that will allow small campfires in your backyard. What we're trying to get away from is the open-air burning of yard waste or construction waste. We think there are adequate alternatives to that now.”
Council adopted a motion to defer a decision on the proposed bylaw changes, asking that staff investigate what's done elsewhere and return to council with an update. Inouye said he thought he could be back to council with that information in about two weeks.