BOISE — Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan is changing his tone on fireworks this year.
Boise’s head firefighter has long been an advocate of changing the law on illegal aerial fireworks and has testified in front of the Legislature in the past. This year, he said he’s not going back to the Legislature unless the citizens go with him.
“At the end of the day, until the citizens let our Legislature know, there probably won’t be any change in the state law,” said Doan, who said his attempts to work with the Legislature haven’t amounted to any change.
Idaho law forbids the use of aerial fireworks, those that shoot higher than 20 feet in the air, without a special permit. However, many are still sold at fireworks stands in Idaho, as long as the buyer signs a waiver agreeing not to use them in the state.
Doan believes that the current law is adequate to ban the sale of illegal fireworks, but some jurisdictions refuse to enforce it.
“I believe that the state law already currently bans it,” he said. “I think it’s pretty clear. I think the current law is good. It just isn’t being enforced.”
Doan acknowledged there may be some ambiguity in the law, which he’d like to see corrected at the legislative level.
While some argue it’s a personal freedom, it’s not so simple, Doan said.
“When does your right to fire off fireworks infringe upon my right to not burn the foothills down, to not burn my house down,” Doan said.
Until the law changes, he said the fire department will keep putting out the fires started by fireworks every year.
“I can’t change this law alone,” he said.
He also plans to go after the perpetrators who start the fires, as well as the vendors who sell the fireworks.
While the law states aerial fireworks are illegal, enforcement is entirely within the purview of sheriffs’ offices, police departments and prosecutors around the state.
“There’s the state law that kind of governs this, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude other jurisdictions from doing something,” said Paul Panther, chief of the Criminal Law Division within the Idaho Attorney General’s Office. “They have a lot of discretion with how they interpret the law and what they do with it.”
Panther said that while the law does not expressly forbid the sale of aerial fireworks, it is the opinion of the attorney general that only those with a special permit may operate those fireworks. Those are typically commercial uses seen at sporting events, he said.
The Ada County Sheriff’s Office says it’s not changing enforcement policies for this year.
“If one of our deputies observes people lighting off illegal aerial fireworks, we will confiscate their remaining illegal fireworks. People who use illegal or illegal aerial fireworks also risk getting a ticket,” according to a statement from the sheriff’s office. “We want to remind people that all fireworks are banned in the Boise Foothills, so anyone who uses fireworks of any kind there also risks getting a ticket.”