Eastpointe City Council OKs measure moving fireworks sales indoors

By: Brendan Losinski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published July 10, 2021

 The Eastpointe City Council voted 4-1 at its regular meeting July 6 to approve ordinance changes that would require all fireworks sales in the city to take place in a brick and mortar building.

The Eastpointe City Council voted 4-1 at its regular meeting July 6 to approve ordinance changes that would require all fireworks sales in the city to take place in a brick and mortar building.

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EASTPOINTE — At its regular meeting July 6, the Eastpointe City Council voted 4-1 to approve two measures to restrict fireworks sales to brick and mortar locations.

There were two measures regarding whether fireworks could be sold out of temporary structures such as tents. One was an amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance, and the other was an amendment to the code of ordinances. They restrict fireworks sales to being sold from brick and mortar stores.

“In order for the one to pass, we also needed an amendment to the code of ordinances,” said City Attorney Richard Albright.

Both were passed with Mayor Monique Owens, Mayor Pro Tem Sarah Lucido, Councilman Harvey Curley and Councilwoman Sylva Moore voting yes and Councilman Cardi DeMonaco voting no.

Dennis Robertson, who sells fireworks in Eastpointe, spoke out at the meeting and said that passing the measures would only hurt the city.

“The economic impact that this will cause between the landowners that rent the land, the state of Michigan for the sales tax, the firefighters fund, the money spent in local businesses for the 10 days we’re open is huge,” he remarked. “We also (maintain) that the building versus a tent theory was proved wrong in Macomb County court. Saying that a building is more safe than a tent has been proven wrong in Fraser and Shelby Township. All I’m asking is to keep things the way they are. Don’t change something that isn’t broken.”

Eastpointe Fire Marshal Brian Marquardt presented his reasons at the meeting for recommending the measures be approved.

“Our job as firefighters is to save lives and property. We do it in two different ways. One is where somebody calls and we address that problem, and the other is through prevention,” he said. “Prevention has two aspects: education and administrative controls such as enforcing the fire code and adoption of ordinances. … The National Fire Protection Association is the authority on fire codes throughout the world. According to their statistics, civilian fire casualties are reduced by 87% in a building that has a fire suppression system. Tents have no suppression system.”

Marquardt said that the difference in safety between an incident involving fireworks indoors and one outdoors is as different as night and day.

“If a fire should occur within a (brick and mortar) building, in 96% of cases, that fire will be contained to the room of origin. It won’t spread,” Marquardt said. “To take a product that is stored in bulk in an area where there are no barriers, products where the first two words on their warning labels are ‘explosive’ and ‘flammable,’ and to move it indoors is the first step toward safety.”

Marquardt also said that moving into brick and mortar buildings is a move most fireworks vendors can afford.

“There’s been some concern about the financial impact of these vendors. I’ve been on the phone with the state fire marshal’s office over the last two weeks regarding these fireworks,” he said. “Fireworks are marked up, up to 800%, so what you are going to spend $40 for, they paid $5 for. According to statistical records, one tent, which is a 20-by-20-foot tent, based on historical sales records, can bring in $70,000 in profit for 10 days. There are multiple vacant buildings in this city. Even if we couldn’t find one with a suppression system in it, retrofitting a building is anywhere between $2 and $7 per square foot (to convert it). If you took that 20-by-20-foot tent and moved it into a 2,000-square-foot building, which would give them five times the sales area, you’re looking at a one-time $14,000 investment, which would improve the building should they choose to not occupy it in later years.”

He went on to say that the financial benefit for the city would mean little if there was an incident regarding a fireworks tent.

“It’s not about raising the fees. We could raise $10,000 and it wouldn’t matter. It’s about safety,” said Marquardt. “If one person gets hurt or injured, a building gets destroyed, if an errant cigarette lights off one of these tents and starts shooting off fireworks everywhere, that $10,000 isn’t going to matter.”

Marquardt said that he is not only thinking about what is safe now, but what will be safe for Eastpointe moving forward.

“These measures could only be passed by law for the last two years. Roseville enacted a similar measure, and they didn’t do it to push out the little guy. It was done to make things safer,” he said. “As more tents move into our city since we would be the only one left who allows them, there will be more tents and more people selling fireworks.”

Mayor Monique Owens expressed her hope that a compromise could be made where fireworks might be sold more safely if located in a certain part of Eastpointe.

“My hope was to put (outdoor tent sales) in an area that was safer,” said Owens. “I want to ask the fire marshal if he can designate a part of the city where fireworks might be sold outdoors safely.”

Marquardt said the location within the city was not the issue.

“It’s not about moving it to a different location. It’s all about safety,” he explained. “One stray cigarette butt or one stray ember, and there’s nothing to protect these tents. There are no walls. There was just an incident in Texas where a fireworks tent went up. There have been multiple incidents where these fireworks were outside and caused great damage.”

Lucido said the safety of residents had to be the council’s primary concern.

“Around Halloween, you’ll see a lot of pop-up Halloween stores in empty buildings,” Lucido said. “I don’t understand why fireworks people can’t do the same thing. I agree that it is safer to have it in a brick and mortar building. There are always empty buildings around here that have suppression systems.”

Moore said the statistics presented by Marquardt convinced her the risk was too great of allowing fireworks to continue to be sold out of tents.

“The last time we discussed this, as a business owner I understood being able to be in a tent and selling your wares from a tent. As of today, with the fire marshal talking about a fire suppression need, I understand that as well, since I have had to have those (systems) as well,” she said. “That changes the matter because they would be able to put out the fire and contain it if something were to happen. I thought about (voting no) briefly, but after hearing from him, I now know they are very dangerous and all you need is one spark for a disaster to happen. A fire extinguisher would not be enough.”

Marquardt said these changes are being adopted by most communities in the area.

“(Robertson) stated it’s not safer, but it is safer. None of the people speaking out against this are firefighters or fire inspectors. There is proof it is safer,” Marquardt said. “Anything inside of a building is safer than being outside in a tent. Putting something that is explosive and putting it inside a suppressed building is safer for everybody.”