Editorials

Pierce County is a mess of fireworks rules. Will one big city finally catch up?

For most Puget Sounders, it might seem early to start fretting about the snap, crackle, ka-boom of holiday fireworks. For most folks, this winter’s near-record rainfall has pushed any fear of another bad summer fire season out of sight, out of mind.

But public officials don’t have the luxury of waiting for the onslaught of amateur Fourth of July pyrotechnics — that reckless time of year when sparks fly, ears ring, flesh burns and neighborhood tempers flare.

This week, Lakewood leaders are wisely launching a discussion about whether to tighten city fireworks regulations.

We hope Pierce County’s second-largest city wakes up and adopts fireworks limits on par with what surrounding municipalities already have on the books.

Lakewood, with a population close to 60,000, has the South Sound’s largest, least restrictive chunk of urban territory when it comes to fireworks. People are allowed to set them off July 3-5 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

God bless baseball, apple pie and the right to local self-determination. But it’s silly (as well as inconsistent and confusing) for Lakewood to keep allowing a three-day war zone when Tacoma, Fircrest and Steilacoom have long since enacted fireworks bans.

University Place doesn’t prohibit fireworks outright, but at least it has the good sense to limit the fuse-lighting festivities to July 4. The official name of the holiday, after all, is Independence Day — singular, not plural.

A UP-style approach might be the direction that Lakewood is headed, upon the recommendation of City Manager John Caulfield. He presented it at a City Council study session Monday evening.

“By restricting or banning fireworks on the 3rd and 5th, we would still allow citizens the ability to celebrate the birth of our country with fireworks on the 4th,” Caulfield wrote in a council memo, “but would reduce the overall amount of time fireworks are being discharged and would therefore decrease the chances of fire or injury.”

Adverse effects on noise-sensitive neighbors, pets and wildlife would also be curtailed, he noted.

His proposal is certainly better than the do-nothing guidance offered by the city’s Public Safety Advisory Committee; the PSAC concluded that trying to enforce a ban would be “a large drain on police resources and, ultimately, end in failure.”

That seems like a dud of a recommendation, given the outpouring of fireworks-related noise and litter complaints each year and the dozens of police, fire and medical aid calls during the week of the holiday.

Granted, Tacoma and other cities with total fireworks bans have a reputation for spotty enforcement at best. For proof, Lakewood Police dispatched an aerial drone on July 4 last year; it recorded the night sky lit up in a 360-degree panorama, fireworks exploding in all directions, including over Tacoma.

Admittedly, any change in fireworks code that’s done without a robust public education and law enforcement component might blow up in the city’s face. But that doesn’t mean Lakewood should give up without a fight against a recurring public nuisance and safety risk.

Here’s an idea: Why not deploy those unmanned drones to catch fireworks scofflaws, as some communities have done? High-tech surveillance might lead to deterrence, with fewer cops having to work holiday overtime shifts.

The city has time to put together a plan; if the council were to approve new fireworks rules this spring, they wouldn’t go into effect until summer 2021.

So let Lakewood folks indulge their July 4 passion for do-it-yourself pyrotechnics. Let them enjoy, for one night each summer, the sparkles and skybursts reflected on the surface of Gravelly and American lakes.

But in the days around the holiday, let there finally be an official ceasefire across Lakewood, Tacoma and all of Pierce County’s urban core.

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