Sparks fly over Knox Museum fireworks
Thomaston — Voices were raised and fingers were pointed during the Board of Selectmen meeting June 23.
However, after 35 minutes of debate it was agreed the recently approved Thomaston Fireworks and Sky Lantern Ordinance banning consumer fireworks needs a closer look.
By a vote of 197 to 116, Thomaston voters approved an ordinance to ban consumer fireworks and sky lanterns at the polls June 10.
The ordinance banned any use of consumer fireworks without a permit from the State Fire Marshal's Office and gave the town the authority to regulate fireworks.
On June 21, Knox Museum held its second annual community solstice celebration, honoring Montpelier’s Finnish Heritage House neighbors’ Juhannus feast, on the museum grounds.
Included in the celebration was a pig roast, live music, a bonfire, and fireworks. The fireworks display was run by Thomaston Selectman Peter Lammert, who is state licensed to run commercial fireworks displays and has done so for years for the town 4th of July fireworks.
As the ordinance did not go into effect until the referendum vote June 10 and the event occurred June 21, the debate centered around the required 20-day advance written permit application.
According to Tobin Malone, acting executive director of the General Henry Knox Museum, the event was granted a fireworks permit for Central Maine Pyrotechnics by the State Fire Marshal's Office, had a site inspection completed, and confirmed a certificate of liability insurance in excess $20 million — something they did not have to do last year.
"The product was consumer that was fired off," according to Malone, who added the State Fire Marshal's Office said the ordinance in question dictates that an unlicensed consumer could not set off fireworks.
Malone said she had asked Town Manager Valmore Blastow to bring before the select board the possibility of amending the ordinance to allow special permits to non-profit organizations.
"They might want to entertain amending it because in our experience what they passed is not the same thing as what they intended," said Malone.
Given his experience with fireworks, Lammert said the select board urged him to serve on the Fireworks Committee and be involved in the ordinance process, which he agreed.
"I was only invited to one meeting," said Lammert. He said the meetings were held at odd times — one even at 2 p.m. in the afternoon. Lammert feels a lot of confusion could have been avoided with his involvement in the process.
"The event did not violate the intent of the ordinance," said Town Attorney Paul Gibbons.
The purpose of the ordinance is to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of the Town of Thomaston by prohibiting the use of consumer fireworks that pose a risk of starting uncontrolled fires, injuring persons and disturbing the peace and quiet enjoyment of residential property owners, as stated in the ordinance.
"The fireworks were done by an expert, at a designated time, with no known threat of harm to anyone," according to Gibbons.
The ordinance does exempt persons who are issued a fireworks display permit from the Maine Commissioner of Public Safety or his or her designee under the provisions of 8 MRSA 221-237. It further states "a fireworks display shall comply with all federal, state, and local laws, ordinances, and regulations."
Lammert, who has all required permits along with his own business called Fireworks For You, provided a 10-page handout to select board members and others outlining "proof so you don't have to doubt what I'm saying" in response to resident and Fireworks Committee Member Harold Wiley's questioning of the fireworks' legality.
At one point, WIley accused Lammert of firing commercial grade cakes in his display.
"I fired according to the state permit, which said consumer grade," explained Lammert, adding he used cakes that were linked together in 12 shots. The fireworks display lasted 21 minutes, according to Lammert.
Following a hefty verbal exchange between Lammert and Wiley, acting Chairman Lee-Ann Upham brought the conversation under control.
"Let's just say there are a lot of things we have to work out," said Upham. "Any amendment has to be moved through a referendum."
William Dashiel, also a member of the Fireworks Committee, strongly urged the selectmen work out the language of the ordinance and any amendments and take it to a referendum vote in November.
Gibbons agreed that nothing could be addressed in that type of meeting.
"Only the voters can fix this," said Gibbons.
Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.