BOSTON (State House News Service) - Legislation enabling cities and towns to legalize fireworks sales and usage would lead to more fires, traumatic injuries and greater property damage across Massachusetts, according to the state fire marshal and a burns surgeon.
During testimony before the Legislature's Public Safety Committee, Dr. Colleen Ryan, a burns surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Shriners Burns Hospital, said the cost of skin grafting and surgeries performed on a single burn victim can run into the millions of dollars.
Ryan recalled the case of a young boy who she said tried to ignite a bottle rocket but put it back in his pocket after the light appeared to fail. When it then exploded in his pocket, his hand was blown off and he suffered serious burns to his thighs and genitalia.
"These injuries are absolutely preventable," Ryan said. "Once they do occur, it's impossible to turn the clock back."
Rep. Richard Bastien, sponsor of the bill (H 3372), said Massachusetts residents are already buying fireworks in neighboring states and bringing them back to Massachusetts. Bastien said the bill's passage could keep jobs and revenue in state, estimating $2 million in sales taxes from a $40 million industry.
"Let's face it, they're being used right now. The market exists," said Bastien (R-Gardner), who admitted to receiving a "mixed" response to his bill from local officials.
Bastien urged lawmakers to advance a bill he said combines the best practices from the 46 states where fireworks are legal. He said his bill would let legislative bodies in each city and town decide whether to issue fireworks sales licenses and allow their fire departments to issue fireworks use permits, with fees not allowed to exceed $25.
The bill would increase penalties for improper fireworks use from $100 to $500, with fines of $1,000 for second and subsequent offenses. A permitting system would enable officials to know who is using fireworks and when they are using them, Bastien said, adding that fireworks appear widely used now despite the ban.
Citing industry and government statistics reflecting a decline in fireworks-related injuries over the past 30 years even as more states legalized fireworks, Bastien maintained that legalization and education about the safe use of fireworks was the best course.
State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan expressed "strong opposition" to the bill, predicting its passage would represent a "huge backward step" in efforts to prevent fires and injuries.
Coan called fireworks a "tremendous threat" to the safety of individuals and predicted the negative consequences of legalizing fireworks in Massachusetts, including "the horror that we see from burns," would far outweigh projected economic benefits.
Committee co-chair Sen. James Timilty (D-Walpole) recalled traveling back from a trip to New Hampshire and seeing alcohol, cigarette and fireworks stores along the border looking to attract Massachusetts customers.
Timilty said lawmakers need to consider border economic issues. "That conversation absolutely has to happen," he said.
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