Councillors reject tougher rules on fireworks

By Jackson Spring

Buying and selling fireworks will remain relatively easy in Edmonton after councillors rejected a recommendation from Fire Rescue Services to tighten the rules.

City council's community and public services committee decided on March 24 not to amend the fireworks bylaw to require vendors to have a permit.

Joe Zatylny, chief of Fire Rescue Services, said the permit requirement would have ensured that vendors adhere to federal regulations, which include storage and packaging standards, a requirement that businesses display safety instructions, and assurance that customers are at least 18.

"Without a vendor permit, administration has no enforcement abilities," Zatylny said. "It will open the door for more vendors without experience or safety knowledge of fireworks."

John Adria, owner of Uncle John's Fireworks, said fireworks vendors already abide by the rules, and the rule changes will only impede businesses.

“We provide safety information to all our customers, but Edmonton’s new regulations will harm the same businesses that have been a key part of consumer fireworks safety,” he said.

Ron Schnitzler, CEO of Discount Flags Ltd., agreed. "(Safety) should be on the sole person shooting the fireworks, and not on the retailer," he said.

Edmonton is currently the only city in Alberta that allows the sale of consumer fireworks, and one of few municipalities that does not require a vendor permit.

Fireworks at a Family Day celebration put on by Meadowlark Community League. Photo courtesy of Paula Kirman.

Community leagues often use consumer fireworks for events, such as for the 2020 Family Day Celebration in Meadowlark. (Photo by Paula Kirman)

The provincial government used to require vendor permits until April 2019, when consumer fireworks were removed from the dangerous goods list under the Alberta Fire Code. After that, other municipal governments promptly instituted their own rules. Some, like Devon and Rocky View County started requiring permits. Others, like Calgary, Red Deer, and Medicine Hat, banned the sale of consumer fireworks altogether.

The City of Edmonton has been much slower to institute its own rules. In November 2019, city council approved permit requirements to buy and set off consumer fireworks. When the requirement came into effect, deputy fire chief Russell Croome said that "if we actually fully aligned with (federal regulations), we would ban fireworks."

On Wednesday, Coun. Mike Nickel cited a lack of firework-related accidents in Edmonton as his reason for opposing the rule changes.

"With all due respect to the fire department ... this is just overreach to me," he said. “You have not provided any evidence with regards to injuries and property damage."

Coun. Andrew Knack said Edmonton should continue reviewing its fireworks rules, but agreed that vendor permits are not necessary.

"It's important for us just to have a bit of a refresh with regards to fireworks," he said.

Adria added that the main issue for his business is not the sales permit requirement on its own, but the fact that the rules seem to change all the time, without notice to retailers.

"Consumer fireworks regulations are changed by administration without warning or notice, creating havoc for communities and small businesses like ours," he said.

Zatylny said that since they came into effect, the fire department has received 77 applications for Tier 1 permits — which cover firework displays on private residential properties — 62 of which were declined.

"They were declined mainly because (the customers) were sold products that didn't meet federally mandated space requirements," Zatylny said, adding that this implies the vendors were the ones not following the rules.

The committee ultimately voted unanimously to remove the vendor permit requirements from the proposed bylaw amendment, which also contained unrelated rule changes to fuel tank storage. However, the committee also voted unanimously for the city's administration to continue drafting other amendments with the goal of improving public safety related to consumer fireworks.

"If there's truly safety issues we need to resolve, I don't think anyone here is going to say, 'Don't create a regulation to address a legitimate safety concern,'" Knack said. "but I'm not hearing the data to back up the (permit) requirement."