COLUMN: Residents want changes to fireworks law and I can't blame them


The awe and tribute of rockets glaring red in the skies over the Fourth of July holiday are a time-honored tradition and the foundation of the American mythos.

Sparklers, flag-adorned bottle rockets and for-entertainment artillery shells make us guffaw in amazement, but they also give us pause to remember what militia men had to endure while fighting for their freedom against tyrannical taxation – that is, of course, if you feel that's a good enough reason to incite a costly and bloody revolutionary war.

Simply put, the holiday just wouldn't be the same with them. So when Michigan passed legislation in 2011 allowing the purchase and sale of professional-grade display fireworks for public consumption, many in the state cried out with joy.

When it passed, I was a legal, responsible and drinking-age adult, and I loved every mortar-blasting minute of it. With no safety training, a BIC lighter and a dream, my friends and I launched multi-colored shells endlessly into the night sky, and well after the weekend ended. We always bought our explosives in bulk.

I never considered the kind of damage one could do with a controlled explosive like a firework because I was never affected negatively by my experience with them. Two weeks ago, my perspective changed entirely.

Embarrassingly and not without some pain, I was shot with a bottle rocket on July 3 while camping with friends on the shores of Lake Huron. The culprit, my friend's uncle – let's call him Sal – was admittedly trying to hit his nephew Joe from about 200 feet away at an adjacent campsite.

Sal has been, for as long as I've known him, incredibly careful with his fireworks use on the holidays I'd spend with them. After all, Sal has been in charge of putting on the cottage community's fireworks display for at least 20 years.

This year, Sal did not exercise such caution, blasting me in the stomach with a rogue rocket. I was fine, and we all had a good laugh about it afterward.

However, it could have been much worse – I could have been terribly injured. Take, for example, WXYZ-TV meteorologist Dave Rexroth, who lost an eye over the holiday weekend from an unfortunate mishap with his own fireworks display. My thoughts and prayers go out to Rexroth, not just because the situation he endured was tragic, but because I can relate to the danger he found himself in.

Simply put, professional and display-grade fireworks are just too dangerous to be in the hands of those who don't have the proper training to use them.

I might sound stodgy, or at the very least bitter because my experience had the potential for jeopardy, yet I am not alone in my opinion that fireworks should not be used by non-professional pyrotechnics.

At Monday's City Commission meeting, two residents stood in front of Mount Pleasant's highest-elected governing body and expressed the same viewpoint. One asked for language changes and clarifications in the city's fireworks ordinance. Another voiced her disapproval of the law altogether.

Cathy Tillman, of Mount Pleasant, spoke at the meeting and said she had a similar experience that weekend. She too was nearly hit with a shell while sitting on her porch. Tilmann added she had a persistent hearing issue caused by the small explosion.

“I have no problem with professional fireworks displays,” Tilmann said. “What I have a problem with is people firing them off indiscriminately. In my opinion, I pay taxes, and it’s my right to not be blown off my porch.”

Tilmann told commissioners that enough was enough, and she was writing to her representative in Lansing to ask that the state law, not just Mount Pleasant's ordinance, be rescinded.

With a scar on my stomach and a new outlook on fireworks safety, I have to agree with her.

Are tradition and war-time nostalgia really worth all the pain and misery these explosives can cause to good people and their families?

Three Michigan residents, including myself, say no.


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