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Law was rushed, lacks controls, Scholz says



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June 20, 2012 - Oxford Fire Chief Pete Scholz is not a big fan of the new Michigan Fireworks Safety Act.

"My concern is the general public," he said.

"There's nothing to say you, as the individual, can't go (to a fireworks retailer) and load up a whole pickup (truck) full of that stuff. But the concern is where does that pickup (truck) go when you go home? Now, you've got a whole load of fireworks inside your garage, which is a fire hazard."

Although the new law prohibits people from using fireworks while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, Scholz questioned who's really going to regulate that?

The chief argued most fireworks are used during parties, picnics, etc. when people are consuming alcoholic beverages.

"There's no control," Scholz said. "Not everybody thinks clearly when they're at parties and stuff. That's where the danger comes in as far as people getting hurt or burned or property getting burned or destroyed. That's my biggest concern."

Scholz believes the state didn't look before it leaped when it enacted this law.

"I think it was another one of those things that was rolled out too fast without really thinking," he said. "It's almost exactly the same as that medical marijuana law – here's the law and oh, by the way, we didn't (create) any regulations or (rules on) how to manage it. It's the exact same kind of a thing (with the fireworks law). There's no enforcement. There's no controls over it."

Scholz indicated that for the state, the new law boiled down to one thing – money. He said state officials saw dollars signs when they looked to the south at Ohio and Indiana, where consumer-grade fireworks have been legal for many years.

"The way it was sold to the fire service and everybody else was it's going to make so much money," he said. "That's how they tried to get everybody to buy in to support it."

According to Scholz, local communities were originally supposed to have the authority to do inspections and were going to receive some of the fees from permits and licenses.

"At the last minute, in another one of those backroom agreements, they stripped everything and put it all into the state, so that we, the local municipalities, have no control – we have nothing to do with the inspections," he explained. "We have nothing to do with the licensing or fees, so again, the money that all of the local municipalities were supposed to get – we get nothing."

The state Fire Marshal's office is responsible for inspecting all the fireworks sales areas throughout Michigan, however, it doesn't have the necessary manpower to do it, according to Scholz. "Everything has been cut to bare bones in Lansing, so there's only like 23 Fire Marshal inspectors for the entire state," he said. "They're the ones that do all the schools, the nursing homes, foster care homes and stuff like that. Now, they have to go out and do all these fireworks inspections, too."

The only power local municipalities have is to grant or deny site plan approval for a proposed fireworks sales area based on whether or not it meets local requirements.

Scholz noted the state created an account for the fireworks-related revenue generated by this new law and after it accumulates $1 million, then maybe some of it will be distributed to the local fire departments.

"Obviously, you'll see nothing for the first year," he said. "It's all going straight to Lansing's coffers."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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