In vain this year, I have looked for any mention from the City of Bellingham, in the way of a warning to the public prior to New Year’s Eve, that consumer fireworks are banned within the city limits and have been so for several years. My personal experience this year is having been awakened near midnight (No, I do not do the new year folderol.) to great booms and bangs that lasted until nearly 1 a.m. None of these explosions was close enough for me to pinpoint and call 911 to complain. I have heard other reports, notably this one, from Amy Fleming who lives in the Alabama Hill area. She posted on NextDoor.com:
“To all of you who started setting off illegal fireworks and actual bombs in the city of Bellingham, starting at about 8 p.m. this evening, thanks so much. Thanks for terrorizing my dog, who is so terrified he couldn’t even go to the bathroom when I tried to take him out at 8 p.m., is still shaking despite being given a tranquilizer. and will continue to be terrified for hours. Even though these fireworks and bombs (mortars?) are illegal, I have learned to expect them around midnight on New Year’s Eve, and try to get my dog out early and get him tranquilized in anticipation. But tonight, I don’t know what is going on. I guess this year you couldn’t even wait until midnight to start your selfish,mean, illegal activity. Some of you defend your conduct on July 4th by claiming to be patriotic. What’s your excuse today for terrorizing pets, wildlife, and many people who have difficulty tolerating this pointless, mindless noise, all so you can make things go boom?”
Of course her comment set off a flurry of responses some sympathetic, some foolish, some dull and uninformed, and some vaguely hostile. You can view the entire thread in the document at the end of this article. What is surprising is that the comments reveal little knowledge about the fireworks ordinance although the commenters speak as though experts. The code is explicit - a ban on consumer fireworks 365 days a year. No time outs for bringing in the new year or any other holiday, the 4th of July included. Yet, there is this jaw-dropping quote from an email I received, “I did call 911 at about 8 p.m., said I was reporting illegal fireworks and gave them a specific address. The first response was ‘what’s illegal about them?’ The dispatcher proceeded to tell me they were legal on New Year’s.” 10.24.130 Fireworks prohibited specifically and clearly states:
Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, no person may:
1. Manufacture, import, possess, or sell fireworks at wholesale or retail for any use;
2. Make a public display of fireworks; or
3. Transport fireworks, except as a licensee or as a public carrier delivering to a licensee.
But this or any ordinance is useless if not enforced. The Bellingham Police Daily Activity Log lists only one noise complaint for the 48 hour period from 31 December 2018 through 1 January 2019 and even that one posting did not list fireworks as the problem. Prior to the holidays this year, there was not a single warning given to the public to remind them of the ban on consumer fireworks. This ban is in its 5th year but you would not know it by the sound of things. Spokane has had an ordinance that has endured over several decades and it works. Spokane has an active, yearly reminder program for the public. Fire department patrols comb the city actively searching for violations. Unfortunately, here, as with many ordinances, the enforcement is complaint driven, probably the most useless form of enforcement procedure known. Imagine if parking meter violations in Bellingham were complaint driven. Yet we have an entire team devoted to enforcement of the meters, the lack of which never killed, injured or disturbed a soul.
The city already has its Bellingham Citizen Patrol and Bellingham Neighbors Together. Why not put these Police Department teams on the street to spot violations and to educate the populace? Uniformed police would still provide enforcement, but extra eyes and ears on holidays could assist immensely.
This from the same email on the 911-call with an operator ignorant of the law,
“...my mother, who lives in Yakima, tells me that she rarely hears fireworks on the 4th of July and did not hear any on New Years. I don’t know if you are at all familiar with Yakima, but it is a crime-ridden mess due to criminal gangs. I have looked up statistics on crime rates for Yakima and Bellingham and crime in Yakima is about 5 times worse than Bellingham. They also have a nearby Indian reservation when (sic) fireworks are sold. Yet somehow their fireworks ban is enforced?”
Let me return to the photo at the top of this article. Here are three quotes from the comments in the NextDoor thread appended below from Bellingham residents.
“I know a lot of veterans also. every single one that I know enjoy the fireworks. Every single one.”
“...the vets I know love fireworks too. ..just another ban this because ...lefty tactic”
“I know a vet who loves fireworks but has an abreaction (sic) attributable to PTSD whenever he sees a Japanese person. Should we have him get a restraining order against all Japanese or learn to deal with his problem?”
These types of comments continue to baffle me and, as a Vietnam veteran myself, I recoil at the false logic while wondering where the empathy is for those veterans who might not react in the same way. Isn’t our duty not to harm, or are we compelled to find excuses to do so by quoting exceptions? I would like to invite the three individuals who made the comments above (if you have forgotten who you are please check the NextDoor thread copy attached below) or go to the Facebook site of Military with PTSD and post your thoughts about the insignificance of fireworks to veterans.