AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- On January 1, 2012, for the first time in decades, the sale, use and possession of consumer fireworks were made legal in Maine.
It took till March 1st for the state's first fireworks store to open, with business owners forced to meet strict building codes and regulations and get the proper permits in place before they could open their doors.
State Fire Marshal, Joe Thomas, met with members of the Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety on Friday to provide them with his findings. He is required by law to report any fireworks related incidents to the legislature yearly.
He says it is difficult to gauge how the law change has impacted the state because there are no numbers to compare this past year's statistics to. In his report, he noted that eleven fires in Maine in 2012 were sparked by fireworks. Another thirty-eight wildfires were reported by the Maine Forest Service to have been caused by fireworks as well.
What Thomas found most disturbing was the number of serious injuries caused by improper use of fireworks. He says hospitals reported nineteen fireworks related injuries last year, but is not sure if that number provides a full picture of what is going on because the hospitals participation in reporting fireworks related injuries is voluntary.
Thomas says the one thing he is certain of, is that more needs to be done to educate fireworks users.
"We've got to ramp up education here because we've really, for lack of a better way to put it, we have got an ignorant population using consumer fireworks," Thomas stated. "The seriousness of the injuries that I did have reported to our office required that I take some type of action to be able to see that we can try to address those issues."
Seventeen fireworks stores are open across the state now, but the legislature is examining the law allowing their sale and use and heard testimony on five sperate bills this week that seek to change the law. While a couple of the proposed bills want to change when and where fireworks can be used, one seeks to restore the ban on fireworks.
The uncertainty about the future of fireworks in Maine has caused concern among business owners, like Steve Marson, who has invested millions of dollars to open his five Pyro City Fireworks stores.
Marson says his employees offer advice to customers about the products they sell and his stores are equipped with videos and kiosks that demonstrate what each piece can do and how they should be used. He has also put on demonstrations for fire fighters and town councilors in an effort to spread awareness.
"I think the thing that we need to continue to do, and we are very engaged in that, is educating the public," said Marson. "You have got to be mindful and respectful of neighbors and you have got to understand everything about it."
He says now that the novelty and newness has worn off he hopes the noise over fireworks will die down.