ELIZABETHTON — A discussion on the sale of fireworks and when they should legally be used was the topic of a workshop session of the Law Enforcement Committee of the Carter County Commission on Monday evening.
The discussion was prompted by a recent proposal by volunteer fire departments to grant them exclusive rights to sell fireworks in the county.
Chief Jason Shaw of the Stoney Creek Volunteer Fire Department said the firework sales have become an important source of revenue for the departments, but the month-long sales do take up a lot of man hours for the volunteers.
Shaw said Stoney Creek used 1,273 man hours selling fireworks this year. The department had a total of 3,611 hours for all tasks since Jan. 1 and firework sales took the most hours. The next most hours were for training, at 1,135 hours. Actual fire calls only took 124 man hours.
Citizen Janice Birchfield said she thought fireworks were dangerous, and she questioned why the county did not better fund the volunteer fire departments so they would not have to sell them.
The sale of fireworks has become an important way for the department to raise funds. In recent years the departments have faced increasing competition from out-of-county vendors who come in during the firework seasons and set up temporary sales booths. It was this competition that has led the fire departments to request an exclusive franchise from the county.
The Law Enforcement Committee heard complaints about business people coming into the county only for the season and taking the profits out of the county. There was concern that if the fire departments did receive the franchise, the established full-time fireworks businesses in the county may be grandfathered in.
Chief Deputy Ron Street of the Carter County Sheriff’s Department said the fireworks sold by the county fire departments provides a lot of benefits for the citizens. “The fire departments are here for the citizens,” Street said. The profits go to “buy equipment to benefit the citizens of this county. The fire departments have no other purpose.”
Committee member Jo Ann Blankenship said the average citizen does not know how much it costs to run a volunteer fire department, both in the cost of equipment and in the cost of mandated training.
Shaw responded by saying just the cost of a pair of firefighting pants and coat costs $1,300 per firefighter.
The committee is also considering the dates and hours in which fireworks could be used. One man who attended the meeting, Bobby Hardin, said he has had a problem with neighbors firing bottle rockets at late hours and is concerned that they could fall on his roof and could start a fire.
Committee member Robert Gobble said it was important to discuss any proposed fireworks regulation with the city of Elizabethton and with Johnson City before taking any action.