Effort to make consumer-grade fireworks legal in Gilford opening Pandora's box?

GILFORD — Although most town residents don't know it, setting off consumer-grade (Class C) fireworks is prohibited — and has been since 1988.

But at the request of the selectmen, Fire Chief Steve Carrier has been working with the N.H. Fire Marshal Chris Wyman to create an ordinance that could allow fireworks in Gilford under certain conditions and restrictions.

Selectmen reviewed an early draft of Carrier's proposal Wednesday night but ended up with more questions than solutions — including one continually posed by Selectman Gus Benavides about how the town can regulate common sense?

For example, one of the draft recommendations is that no fireworks can be discharged within 50 feet of a structure, utility lines or woods.

"I don't see how that can be possible," said Benavides. "What if they don't go straight up and straight down?"

Carrier and the fire marshal said that the goal of any ordinance would be to ensure fireworks met the consumer standards — Class C verses Class B (professional grade) fireworks — and that only people 21 and older are handling them. It would also have time restrictions.

The idea, they said, is to keep them in your own backyard.

Selectman John O'Brien, who has been talking about fireworks and their regulation and enforcement for a number of years, said by allowing their use, the town is assuming "a lot of common sense."

"Common sense and beer don't go together," he said.

About 20 percent of New Hampshire communities prohibit the use of fireworks said Wyman. He also said that it is hard to say how many injuries are reported annually form fireworks, because the state only gets records from emergencies room on burn information.

He noted that in the past two years there have been at least two serious incidents involving fireworks, including a young girl who was burned when a sparkler lit her dress afire and the incident in Pelham that sent 11 people to the hospital when a misfire caused an explosion. Wyman said two people are still being treated for their injuries.

When asked yesterday, Lt. Kris Kelley said fireworks complaints usually come in waves and are consistent with the Fourth of July and occasionally New Years Eve.

He said police respond but by the time they pinpoint where the fireworks are being used and get there they are usually all gone.

"What we do is try to stop people from using them," he said.

When asked if fireworks are confiscated when found, Kelley said they can be but they also represent an internal storage and safety problem.

Selectmen took no actions on the chief's draft proposal Wednesday and were reminded by Town Administrator Scott Dunn that if the board didn't want to allow them, then they could end the conversation and just keep the complete prohibition.

O'Brien said the town needs to do some more research before any kind of warrant article for a new ordinance is drafted.