Opinion: Proposed firework law is a ticking time bomb

Bob Horvath

The Legislature recently passed new laws limiting the days and hours fireworks can be discharged. I support this move, but the Legislature bowed to pressure from some large fireworks companies to eliminate important matters that create a literal ticking time bomb with the public at risk.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) code 1124 is a national standard used to protect property and the public from improper fireworks sale and storage. Up until the Legislature acted, Michigan rightly required businesses to adhere to NFPA 1124. Sadly, the Legislature passed bills now sitting on Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk ignoring important standards.

Currently, a fireworks store in a strip center was not required to install an automatic fire suppression system only if it stocked less than 500 pounds of fireworks there. But, under HB 5939, that same retailer — by the simple fact it operated with less than 500 lbs. during the 2018 July 4th season — is grandfathered and can now stock more than 50,000 pounds without having to install a fire suppression system.

Even worse, the bill allows for bulk storage of fireworks – whether in the store or in “any adjacent or directly associated retail storage” areas. Dr. John Steinberg, a practicing physician, attorney, and for the past 18 years, a participant in creating NFPA 1124, declares the obvious: “[t]he exemption of pre-existing, previously licensed fireworks sales facilities from specific safety provisions … is arbitrary … and a hybridization of storage and sales facilities based solely on their co-location ….”

Steinberg maintains that strip centers, as well as every other permanent fireworks location, not “… used primarily for the retail display and sale of consumer fireworks” is a “hybridization of storage and sales facilities” and subject to the more stringent storage standards under NFPA 1124, Ch. 6. Ohio, for example, requires permanent stores to be open at least 4 hours each day, 5 days a week to avoid the Ch. 6 standards.

We know no permanent locations here are open 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year. Instead, they store their fireworks until the next July 4th to avoid shipping back to their out-of-state warehouses. Without proper safety standards, everyone near these stores is at risk.

Sec.17(G) of HB 5939 also compromises one’s safety by allowing motor vehicles to park next to a permanent fireworks building even though NFPA 1124 mandates at least 10 feet. Steinberg affirms 10 feet is a tested factor necessary to mitigate fire/ sparking hazards and to allow emergency access to the building. Instead, HB 5939 uses a standard convenient of those simply not wanting to reformat parking areas.

The Ford Fireworks display over the Detroit River taken from Windsor.

Lastly, HB 5940 seeks to delegate to some local units of government the right to enact ordinances regulating only temporary structures without requiring them to use any standards. According to Steinberg, local units of government will now likely pass ordinances in an unsystematic and haphazard manner subjecting them to potential liability.

For all the above reasons Snyder should veto this legislation. Restricting the number of days for fireworks is a good idea but allowing these new bills to pass will put the public at risk. The next Legislature can easily change the times for fireworks and still protect the public. The present legislation is indeed a ticking time bomb.

Bob Horvath is a retired attorney from Ann Arbor.