ARLINGTON — The Arlington City Council is considering a ban on fireworks and will discuss several options at a work session later in July.
Existing city law allows fireworks to be discharged from 9 a.m. to midnight on July 4, and from 7 p.m. to midnight on Dec. 31.
City Administrator Paul Ellis passed out a brief memo to the City Council Monday outlining options for a discussion on fireworks that range from an advisory vote ballot measure, a council-initiated ban or further restrictions in the event of emergency conditions, such as high fire danger.
“This is just to kind of help give us some direction and give council an idea on timelines,” said Ellis, if they choose to change the law.
The council has tentatively scheduled the discussion for July 22, providing enough time for staff to compile fireworks-related information and the public to share comments with the council and City Hall. The council recesses in August.
City spokeswoman Kristin Banfield said council discussions about fireworks after the Fourth of July are a common occurrence.
In the past, complaints from citizens have been about noise, concern about children injuring themselves, pets, trauma and veterans. Officials have responded with more fireworks safety education.
This year the issue seems to be more prominent and gaining traction, Banfield said.
“We’re seeing more complaints based on fire risk and fire danger because things are drier now,” she said. Officials received half a dozen complaints last year, and more have been coming before the holiday.
Banfield said traditionally Arlington residents have been split down the middle about whether to ban fireworks or let neighbors continue to enjoy fireworks in their Independence Day celebrating.
“It’s a difficult conversation,” she said.
Ellis provided four options:
• Put an advisory vote on the ballot to poll registered voters within city limits. The most cost-effective election would be to place the vote on a ballot with other items such as fire districts, schools or the hospital. Special elections in February or April would be the next available times that would meet a deadline of the June 15, 2020 council meeting for formal adoption.• Pass an ordinance banning fireworks without an advisory vote.• Adopt more restrictions on the dates and hours for discharging fireworks. Some jurisdictions also have adopted laws that authorize specific officials, such as a fire marshal, to prohibit fireworks during emergency conditions such as high fire danger.
• In theory, the council could also adopt a type of emergency declaration that the ordinance is necessary for public health or safety. It would require a majority plus one of the council (five of seven members) to vote in favor.
State law requires any local ordinance that is stricter than state law to have a one-year waiting period before it takes effect. If the council adopted a new law on June 15, 2020, the last meeting before July 4, it would not take effect until June 2021.
Among 20 cities in Snohomish County, Arlington is one of five cities and the unincorporated county that allow discharging fireworks on July 4 only. Four cities defer to state law, which permits multiple days and times, while 11 cities, including Marysville, ban them.
According to data provided by Arlington police, the number of fireworks calls in July 2018 was 53, the same as in 2017. There were 38 calls in 2016, 42 in 2015 and 54 in 2014. Police fielded 75 fireworks complaints all last year, and typically issues a couple of citations annually for violations, Chief Jonathan Ventura said.
The Arlington Fire Department shared fireworks-related data for the 24-hour July 4 shift over the past three years. Last year, firefighters responded to three fireworks-related fires, one of which required mutual aid, and two EMS calls, one that involved mutual aid. For 2016 and 2017, shift firefighters were called to two fires involving pyrotechnics, with no EMS responses.
“The Fourh of July is historically a busy day for us with increased call volume,” Fire Chief Dave Kraski said. “In 2018 we responded to 23 calls in 24 hours, which is about eight calls above normal. The majority of those are general EMS calls, not fireworks related, but possibly ‘celebration’ related.”
Kraski said 10 of the 2018 calls were logged between 7-11 p.m. The department historically staffs an additional unit for the evening. This year the department hired back two members from 6 p.m. to midnight to staff an extra unit.