Fire-damping legislation needs governor’s support
This Fourth of July weekend, Hawaii residents can help to save lives by being more aware of fire safety.
Last July 4, I assisted in a relief effort through the Hawaii Red Cross for victims of a devastating fire set off by fireworks. No lives were lost, but I was forever changed by seeing the loss of the family's home and possessions in a matter of minutes. I also witnessed the bravery and commitment of our firefighters who put their own lives on the line.
In an effort to support Hawaii firefighters, the Legislature worked this past session to get measures passed that would help reduce fires across the state. We passed a package of three measures aimed at preventing further destruction and loss of life by tackling the most common instigators of fires in Hawaii: fireworks, arsonists and cigarettes.
Consider that on Maui, firefighters battled 225 blazes, most of which were started in dry brush and sugarcane fields, causing $1.3 million in damage through May of this year.
In October, nine coastal fires were deliberately set on the Big Island. Even with 60 fire departments responding, the brush fires, which started in Waikoloa, were difficult to contain. More than 400 residents were evacuated and more than 2,600 acres of land were damaged. Three months earlier, arsonists set fire to 9,100 acres in Waikoloa.
House Bill 2436 will strengthen the regulation and enforcement of fireworks, while Senate Bill 2425 will require arsonists to pay for the cost of extinguishing a fire. Both bills have already been signed into law as Act 38 and Act 17, respectively.
Unfortunately, Gov. Linda Lingle has given notice of intent to veto the Fire-Safe Cigarettes Bill (HB 2438). This bill, which would establish a process to ensure that only fire-safe cigarettes are sold in Hawaii, can save lives, money and property each year in combination with the fireworks and arson bills.
Consider the following facts from the Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes:
» Cigarettes are a leading cause of home fire fatalities in the United States, killing 700 to 900 people - smokers and nonsmokers alike - each year.
» One-quarter of the victims of smoking-related fires are not the smokers themselves. Of these, 34 percent are children of the smokers; 25 percent are neighbors or friends; 14 percent are spouses or partners; and 13 percent are parents.
» Research in the mid-1980s predicted that fire-safe cigarettes would eliminate three out of four cigarette fire deaths. If cigarette manufacturers had begun producing only fire-safe cigarettes back then, an estimated 17,000 lives could have been saved by now.
Through a joint effort of the House and Senate, the State Fire Council and the Hawaii Fire Fighters Union, we passed legislation joining 27 other states that have already passed out or enacted similar laws. Fire-safe cigarettes will extinguish or burn at lower temperatures that lessen the risk of furniture, mattresses or brush catching fire.
The cigarettes are wrapped in a special type of porous paper, with thicker bands at specific points that act as "speed bumps." When left unattended, the cigarette will burn down to one of the speed bumps and self-extinguish.
The State Fire Council must administer requirements for test methods and performance standards for the manufacturer's cigarettes. I urge the governor to reconsider her possible veto of this bill.
Reports of lower-than-normal rainfall this year have already fueled concern about a fiercer fire season this summer. For me, the real celebration on July 4 will be a holiday safe from the destruction of fire.
Rep. Ryan Yamane, a Democrat, represents District 37 (Waipahu, Mililani).