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Tuesday, Jul 08 2014 03:49 PM

Majority of city council supports fireworks

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Legal fireworks are displayed by the Kern County Fire Department during a press conference to inform the public of fireworks safety.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Illegal fireworks are displayed by the Kern County Fire Department during a press conference to inform the public of fireworks safety and warn against using illegal fireworks on the 4th of July.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Despite the city fire chief's anti-fireworks stance, most of the Bakersfield City Council members said Tuesday they support the Fourth of July's signature activity and oppose dimming the rockets' red glare.

In an opinion piece published in The Californian Tuesday, Bakersfield Fire Chief Doug Greener said he is against personal-use fireworks and pointed out fire stations responded to 31 fires started by fireworks-related activity during the 24-hour period that began at 8 a.m. Friday.

The Bakersfield Fire Department also responded to 413 illegal fireworks calls and wrote 47 citations related to illegal fireworks on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Yet five Bakersfield City Council members said fireworks sales should continue.

Firework stands in Bakersfield are chosen by lottery every two years -- although most recently in 2013, city officials discovered a drawing wasn't needed when 83 applicants sought 84 spots.

Each lottery winner can set up one stand during each of two years, provided his or her company has been in business at least one year, has a valid business license, and pays $683 in fees.

More than $400 of that is fire inspection and fire enforcement fees. All but $100 of the fees is non-refundable.

The fees help cover the city's costs incurred responding to calls for service on the holiday -- but regardless of Bakersfield's expense, Ward 4 Councilman Bob Smith said he thinks it's worth it.

"That's the business of running a city -- picking up after people who make mistakes a lot," said Smith, who represents the northwest, adding he thought a city fireworks ban would be unenforceable due to Bakersfield's irregularly shaped border.

Council representatives Willie Rivera, Terry Maxwell and Jacquie Sullivan said they didn't think a relatively few irresponsible residents should be allowed to ruin personal fireworks usage for everyone.

"I appreciate where our fire chief is coming from. It's his responsibility to keep people safe," said Sullivan, who represents one of two southwest council wards, adding she was "definitely still in support" of fireworks.

Maxwell, who represents downtown, said his family's dachshund was struck by a car several years ago on July 4, when fireworks frightened it into running away.

This year, Maxwell said fireworks in his area again proved too much for one of his family's dogs, which escaped from their backyard -- but fortunately was caught and returned by a neighbor.

"The complicating factor is the animals. That's where people are going to find themselves in a really tough position, because of that," said Maxwell, indicating he might support limiting personal-use fireworks to July 4 only -- but will not bring the issue to the council.

"I hate for government to get that big. I just wish people would be more respectful," Maxwell said.

Rivera, who represents the southeast, said he did see some illegal aerial fireworks, but his neighbors celebrated responsibly.

"I don't feel the need, I don't see the need for the city to intervene. Anyone else who might burn down their home or blow up their hands really should not spoil the tradition of shooting off fireworks for everyone else," Rivera said -- noting that those who injure others or destroy the property of others should be prosecuted.

Ward 3 Councilman Ken Weir, who represents the northeast, said he thinks fireworks users need to be responsible.

"Fourth of July and fireworks kind of go hand-in-hand. It's an American tradition," Weir said. "I think we just need to do it responsibly."

Ward 7 Councilman Russell Johnson said he supports legal fireworks but agrees with Greener that BFD should take a closer look at how other cities handle illegal examples.

"I think fireworks are part of the national holiday," Johnson said. "That said, I think there’s more we should be doing to police illegal fireworks."

Ward 5 Councilman Harold Hanson did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

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