Sunday Express Editorial

Amidst the revelry welcoming 2022, the unregulated availability and indiscriminate use of fireworks injured a woman and cost 25 people their homes in Port of Spain; spooked countless animals, sending some of them fleeing into danger; and generally harassed ­babies, the elderly and the ailing.

It seems that nothing—neither policy nor the law, nor the public’s demand for safety regulations with enforcement—will convince the ­authorities to crack down on the fireworks free-for-all.

This past year end, as if fire crackers and other loudly exploding devices were not bad enough, sky lanterns gained popularity to ­become the hot new trend.

Like all fireworks, sky lanterns are things of beauty which, when they work, float up and away with their brightly burning flames lighting up the night sky. However, they are not guaranteed to be failure-proof. When they fail, a $30 sky lantern could destroy homes and injure people, as one was said to have done on Friday night on Quarry Street in East Port of Spain. As horrible as that is, it could also have been worse; lives could have been lost.

Outside T&T, sky lanterns have destroyed millions in property; levelled hundreds of acres of forestry; started fires in cell towers; posed threats to airplanes; and injured animals that chew on their fallen remains. Because of the danger they pose, several countries have already banned them, including Argentina, Austria, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Spain and Germany. They are also banned in parts of Canada and in most states in the US.

Here in T&T, apart from the 2018 ban on the importation and sale of scratch bombs, there is almost no regulatory impediment to fireworks, and the subject has not even been raised. Now that the authorities and the population have a chilling example of what happens when these lanterns fail, there should be a prompt response led by the Fire Service and the Ministry of National Security to ­pre-empt future disaster.

The overall lack of regulation of the sale and use of fireworks and the lack of enforcement of the very limited fireworks laws that exist indicate that the fireworks industry is not on the radar of either the police or the Government, neither of which seems to have much appetite for setting standards, introducing effective legislation or enforcing the law.

In T&T, the laws regarding fireworks are limited, weak and in need of serious updating. For a product that falls within the category of explosives, there is a shocking lack of responsibility on both sellers and buyers to adhere to any enforceable standard of safety. A perfect example is the ease with which almost everyone ignores the Summary Offences Act Chapter 11:02, Section 99, which states that “any person who throws, casts, sets fire to, or lets off any fireworks within any town is liable to a fine of one thousand dollars”.

While fireworks displays are hugely popular, it is possible to enjoy them within a framework of safety. The thrill of fireworks must not come at the expense of the homes, health and lives of others.

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