Westminster voters will get a chance to decide in November whether to end the ban on fireworks in their Orange County city. Measure AA would bring back "safe-and-sane" fireworks in Westminster for the first time in two decades.
Fourth of July in a city where fireworks are still legal looks, sounds and smells like a street party-meets-war zone.
Families and friends hover around and light small fireworks displays up and down the streets. Kids with sparklers draw streaky pictures in the air.
Measure AA would make "safe-and-sane" fireworks legal again in Westminster.
Steve Caruso lives there. He likes the idea of ending the city’s 20-year-old fireworks ban.
"It will bring revenue back to the city, which is desperately needed, without raising taxes," Caruso says as he stands on the sidelines at his son’s Westminster Little League practice. He watches about a dozen kids hit and field balls near some unfinished batting cages.
If voters pass Measure AA, Westminster’s Little League could open a Fourth of July fireworks stand to raise money.
Westminster Little League Board member Tom Herrington says they could fix up fields, finish building those batting cages or host tournaments.
"The average first-time firework stand will make an organization anywhere from $2,000 on up to the successful ones go up over $10,000," Herrington says.
In Costa Mesa, one of five Orange County cities where fireworks are legal, the Pop Warner football league says it makes more than $16,000 a year in fireworks sales. That’s big money in a sluggish economy.
And Herrington says a fireworks stand gives a community group more exposure, too. But at the nearby UCI Medical Center in Orange, fireworks mean more patients in the emergency room.
Dr. Mark Langdorf oversees the emergency department at UCI Medical center. He says he doesn’t want any Orange County city to make fireworks legal again.
"Basically, you’re putting a burning implement in the hands of an amateur or child and expecting them to be safe with it, whether it’s safe or sane or otherwise," he says. "And that’s really unrealistic, because we see enough fireworks injuries every year, and they’re all entirely preventable."
Westminster has canceled its city-sponsored fireworks show two years running because of budget cuts. Still, Dr. Langdorf says there are plenty of other professional fireworks shows where people can get that patriotic Fourth of July feeling – and be safe.
Langdorf says kids are most likely to get hurt by fireworks. And he says fireworks injuries can be nasty.
"Personally, I saw a lady who got a bad foot burn this past July 4th or 5th. And they are disabling," Langdorf says. "They take – even minor burns take days and weeks to heal, and the most devastating ones are the hand injuries and the hand burns, because the hands are very delicate, and the scarring that occurs with even moderate burns can affect a whole life and a whole livelihood."
But Westminster resident Steve Caruso says "safe-and-sane" fireworks are perfectly safe if you use them carefully – in the street, with a bucket of water nearby and with lots of supervision for the kids.
He points out anything can be dangerous. Caruso says we can’t ban everything that can hurt someone if it’s not used correctly.
"You know, you have a stove at your house, which is a fire. And you still have people that will sometimes catch things on fire accidentally and have issues," Caruso says. "There’s always going to be an argument against something. But if you do it properly, you have no problems. And it brings revenue back in."
The chief of the Orange County Fire Authority has said he’ll work with whatever Westminster voters decide in the November 2 election.
Westminster voters shot down a similar measure about a decade ago.
A “yes” vote on Measure AA means safe-and-sane fireworks will be legal again in Westminster for the Fourth of July holiday.
A “no” vote would keep Westminster’s fireworks ban in place.