They came frustrated and they left frustrated.
A group of about 60 Mauians attended a panel discussion on Tuesday night at Pomaikai Elementary School in Kahului to discuss the problems and dangers of illegal fireworks and to question how cultural traditions could be observed while preserving the peace and safety of the larger community.
The panel moderated by Mahina Martin included Maui Police Department Chief of Police Tivo Faaumu, Maui Fire Department Fire Chief David Thyne, Prosecuting Attorney Don Guzman, Hawai`i Department of Transportation Harbors Maui District Manager Duane Kim, Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Boating & Ocean Recreation Division Maui District Manager Paul Sensano, and HDOT Maui District Airports Manager Marvin Moniz.
The two hour evening event was hosted by Papae Maui Nei, which Martin said was a new group that “aims to focus on supporting community through dialogue, discussion and information sharing.”
A panel of top public officials went over the rules, regulations, problems and difficulties encountered by the various jurisdictions on land sea and air and attempted to answer written questions from the audience on how enforcement could be improved and problems created by both legal and illegal explosives could be better addressed.
Along the way the audience learned that it is always illegal to to set off fireworks along sidewalks, streets and roadways but permissible to use legal fireworks on private property.
The audience also learned that enforcement is hindered because present regulations require positive identification of the person or persons igniting the devices. Because violations on holidays such as New Year’s Eve are on such a massive scale positive individual personal identification is usually difficult to obtain.
MPD Chief Faaumu mentioned the increasing volume of calls and strain on resources, commenting, “You can’t arrest your way out of this situation.”
The all male panel faced an audience that leaned heavily to the female side. The men had little to say that could provide assurance the the situation would improve. While a great deal of information was presented, very few solutions (other than increased legislation) was proposed. A sense of urgency was distinctly absent, and as each man spoke it seemed clear that he felt his department didn’t have the manpower or the resources to really address the issues.
While the exchange was civil and informative, just below the surface there was the sense that the situation had gotten out of hand and was continuing to grow worse; and that those charged with enforcement were indifferent at best and inept at worst.
And from time to time the smooth surface of civil discourse was broken by impassioned comments from the audience like those from Joseph Alex of Kahului alleging that “They’re not just lighting firecrackers, they’re making bombs. We called the police, we gave addresses, nobody came, not one person, nothing was done.”
Following the meeting Michael Blaz of Kihei showed photos of a 4th of July fire in 2018 that burned six homes completely destroying two, and Linda Puppolo of Kahului also spoke of the damage to homes caused by fire started by firecrackers. She also mentioned stress to the elderly and animals. Other attending spoke of aerial devices landing on their roofs and loud random noise that went for a protracted period of time.
Indeed the press release sent out by the sponsoring group stated “concerns increased as constant fireworks described as “bomb-sounding” would occur throughout the island at unpredictable times with some neighborhoods experiencing it near-daily for several weeks during the holiday season. The combination of the exceptionally loud aerial noise and the randomness of when it would happen set off traumatic reactions from individuals suffering from PTSD, young children, animals, and families whose terrified pets are injured or killed by traffic after panicking and breaking free from their homes. The level of intensity and unpredictability of the fireworks would leave those impacted without the ability to prepare in any way.”
As the evening wore on the crowd dwindled. Asked how they felt as they went out the door most replied, “frustrated.”
Following the meeting moderator Martin called the event a good first step toward taking long overdue action, and expressed the hope that by bringing together those whose job it was to regulate the devices and letting them hear the concerns of Mauians more cooperation and better enforcement would result.