Opinion

Fireworks bans not working — here's a solution | Chris Carrel

By now the aerial bombardment has ended, and Federal Way-ers are tentatively creeping out of their bunkers to see how much fireworks shrapnel ended up in their yards.

If you’re reading this, it means glowing embers from the neighbor kids’ high-tech pyrotechnic displays haven’t burned today’s newspaper to ashes.

With all due respect to law and order, I will start this off by stating what everyone knows: Fireworks bans are not working. Of course, the Wednesday Mirror’s instructional how-to and where-to on illegal fireworks helped the cause like a free case of punks and a coupon for M-80s.

Judging by the annual fireworks extravaganza seen around my neighborhood, the fireworks ban isn’t making much of a dent. Each year, I am astounded by a veritable military assault of explosions, screaming rockets that burst into flowers of light, dropping a cascading shower of sparks. It’s a show that nearly rivals what the city does at Celebration Park.

This isn’t just our street. This is going on all around us. For much of the Fourth of July evening, we can see and hear fireworks flashing and blasting at various distances from our street. Often, the blasts continue until several days after July 4. I’m sure the same is true in other cities with fireworks bans.

Govern-ment prohibitions on popular activities are almost destined to fail. Fireworks are no different. We don’t have enough police officers to chase down every firecracker in the city, let alone do the paperwork on every citation.

I’m no wet blanket. I’m not going to get on a soapbox and rail against the fire danger, or the threat of blowing your fingers off. I’ve enjoyed the thrill of illegal fireworks in my younger days.

It’s just that I hate to see laws that don’t work well. Perhaps the ban isn’t the problem, but the way we go about enforcing it.

If we really want to affect fireworks behavior, we’ll need a solution that doesn’t involve lots of police manpower, or huge costs. I think we can do the job with a couple of officers, hired pilots, a rented helicopter and one of those aerial water tankers used to fight forest fires.

Put one officer in the helicopter on the Fourth of July, flying back and forth over Federal Way. Every time the officer spots illegal fireworks, he or she radios in an airstrike from the water tanker. Splash! The illegal show is over.

There are numerous upsides to this proposal. There’s no paperwork. There’s no need to have officers chase down suspects and write them tickets or write up the paperwork afterward. You just lock and load…and drop a Sea World-sized pool of water on the offenders.

Of course, it almost goes without saying that the moisture content added to the city will vastly reduce the fire threat over the Fourth of July weekend.

The costs would likely be fairly reasonable, involving only a few police officers, contract pilots and a one-night helicopter and airtanker rental. Further cost savings could be realized by getting Lakehaven Utility District to donate water refills.

And it’d be fun. If you’re the type who favors backyard fireworks displays, just imagine that in addition to your illegal bottle rockets and Roman candles, you might get doused from the sky with a swimming pool’s worth of water at any moment.

I grew up to be a law-abiding citizen, but when I was a little F-Dubber, I enjoyed the thrill of illegal fireworks and running like heck for the woods when someone yelled “Police!” I can only imagine the added thrill of running from an aquatic airstrike. This might even help address the obesity problem afflicting so many of our youth. What better than a night of running from the aerial water tanker? That’ll burn off the calories.

It would be irresponsible if I didn’t mention a few minor downsides to this proposal. There might be a smidgen of legal exposure to the city from dropping large amounts of water on citizens from the air. It’s also fair to consider that some people may not be as good of a sport as others when blasted by the aerial dunking.

Finally, and this is probably the most important of all, the pilot would need to be able to distinguish between legal and illegal fireworks. Imagine the bad press this new anti-fireworks measure might get if a couple of 5-year-olds running around with sparklers got the water drop.

On that note, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to establish a no-fly zone over Celebration Park, either. I’m going back into my bunker now. Happy Fourth of July!

Chris Carrel is a lifelong Federal Way resident and executive director of the Friends of the Hylebos. Contact: chinook@hylebos.org.

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