A statewide debate is under way about a proposed bill before the Maine Legislature — LD 83, “An Act To Legalize the Sale, Possession and Use of Fireworks — which would remove a prohibition on the sale and use of consumer fireworks. It also establishes licensing protocol for sellers of fireworks.

The thought of its sponsor — Rep. Douglas Damon, R-Bangor — and cosponsors (two of whom hail from here in Waldo County) — Sen. Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and Reps. Paul Bennett, R-Kennebunk, David Johnson, R-Eddington, Aaron Libby, R-Waterboro, Beth O’Connor, R-Berwick, James Parker, R-Veazie, Peter Rioux, R-Winterport, Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, and Stephen Wood, R-Sabattus — is that more money will flow into state coffers, and, of course, stimulate business activity from the retail of fireworks.

But many fire officials are skeptical that any additional revenues to the state’s general fund from the expansion of the fireworks industry will outweigh the increased costs of emergency services associated with the greater availability, and use, of fireworks.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, on Independence Day in a typical year, far more fires are reported than on any other day, and fireworks account for more than half of those fires. In 2008, fireworks caused an estimated 22,500 fires, of which 1,400 were structure fires.

The business of fireworks has developed dramatically since 1976, when an estimated 29 million pounds of fireworks were consumed in the United States, according to the American Pyrotechnic Association. Fast forward to 2008, and 213 million pounds of fireworks were purchased, and, we think it’s safe to assume, exploded.

Likewise, the revenue generated by the fireworks industry has more than doubled since 1998, from $425 million to $945 million in 2009. According to a 2006 article in Inc. magazine, almost all consumer class fireworks are manufactured in China. American wholesalers and retailers apparently have a solid relationship going with the Chinese manufacturers, and the Chinese are able to feed Americans what they want to see in their fireworks displays.

Certainly, safety standards have improved over the years, but we wonder how much of the seven-fold increase in the number of bombs and rockets set off overhead is due to the longer and more intense displays produced by professional pyrotechnicians, rather than more availability for private citizens.

A suggestion from bill sponsor Damon, that some of the revenue generated by legalizing the sale of fireworks in Maine be dedicated to teach firefighters to train citizens how to use incendiaries safely, has been met with skepticism by those who would be called upon to do those trainings.

Statistics indicate that in 2008, emergency rooms throughout the country treated an estimated 7,000 individuals for fireworks-related injuries, 29 percent of them harming hands or fingers, and 20 percent, the eyes.

We’re not doubting that the loosening of rules for the sale and use of fireworks will generate more dollars for someone, but have bill proponents fully vetted the public safety implications? For fireworks regulation, our present system isn’t broken. We don’t need to enact a law that will increase fires in the state and we’re not convinced anyone’s quality of life is affected by not having fireworks.

Maine does need to seek sources of revenue if we are to balance our budget and continue to provide needed services. But it is far from certain this law would do that. The Legislature has a lot of things on its hands. A lit fuse should not be one of them.