Council to weigh curbs on fireworks

Measure would ban ground-display devices blamed in Harford fire

Howard County

February 27, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Ground-display fireworks like the kind that burned a Harford County house last year would be banned in Howard County under a bill slated for County Council introduction Monday.

Howard County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat who is sponsoring the bill with two other Democrats, said he wants to prevent accidents.

Guzzone said he is responding to complaints he received last summer when bundles of fireworks were sold from a tent on the parking lot of Owen Brown Village Center in his district.

"Clearly, I don't think we need to wait to have a disaster happen before we take action," Guzzone said.

The bill would return Howard law to that of Maryland law before 2001, when only small hand-held sparklers and two kinds of poppers that spew confetti were legal.

His view is backed by Howard Fire Chief Joe Herr, who noted the disastrous fire caused by fireworks in a Rhode Island nightclub that took 97 lives last week.

"I think that's the kind of thing that can happen when people are fooling around with stuff that generates enough heat to cause sparks," Herr said.

But Julie L. Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association in Bethesda, said banning ground-display devices would lead to more problems from people who would buy illegal explosives such as "those horrible M-80s and blockbusters - things that are extremely dangerous."

Harford County enacted more restrictive fireworks laws after an incident July 1 in Abingdon when a carload of teen-agers set off a ground-display device inside their vehicle and then threw it out in a panic, setting bushes and a house on fire. Those larger displays are illegal in Baltimore and Ocean City, and in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

The Guzzone measure cuts along party lines.

Democrats want to prevent problems by outlawing the larger ground-display fireworks, while Republicans argue that no need exists to restrict an activity that has not caused a problem.

"My gut feeling is I will oppose it," said Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western Howard Republican. "We shouldn't take that right away from people. The government can't always be the parent of everybody."

Dennis Coster, president of Fireworks Productions of White Hall in Baltimore County, said accidents result from misuse.

"If you ban these fun sparkling devices for that reason, you've got to ban cigarettes and alcohol, too," he said.

The five-member council, although with two different members, split 3-2 along party lines on the issue in October, when Guzzone pushed through a resolution asking state legislators to return state law to what it was before 2001.

A statewide bill before the House Judiciary Committee is not expected to be enacted, Guzzone said. Even if enacted, new state laws do not normally take effect until October, so Guzzone introduced his bill.

The county bill again has the support of all three council Democrats.

"I think there's one unique thing about this particular county: We tend to be more proactive. We need to get on top of this issue before someone is injured. Why wait?" said east Columbia Democrat David A. Rakes.

Kittleman said: "I have to hope that parents will be responsible with their children and teach them what to do."

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