KAILUA-KONA — Throughout the year, Joe Tawater works as a painting contractor as the owner of STP Painting.
But as the year starts to come to a close, Tawater takes a couple weeks off to wear a different hat: helping the region’s residents welcome the new year with plenty of flash and bang.
And after 15 years of offering the community plenty of ways to light up the night on New Year’s Eve, it’s become something of a family tradition.
“For us at Pacific Fireworks, everybody you see here is my family — my sons, my nephews, my grandson,” Tawater said as he pointed out his staff at Pacific Fireworks, where he’s the store manager. “And it’s kind of something we do every year.”
Wednesday marked the official first day fireworks and fireworks permits are available for purchase throughout the county. And with less than a week to go until the new year, vendors like Tawater are up and running with everything from fountains and noisemakers to sparklers and firecrackers.
Permits, which cost $25 each, are available at the Kona Fire Prevention Office on the second floor of Building E at the West Hawaii Civic Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Dec. 26-30.
They are also available at the Parker Ranch Shopping Center food court in Waimea from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Dec. 26-31, as well as at the Fire Administration Office in the Hilo County Building from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Dec. 26-28, according to the Hawaii Fire Department.
Those permits allow a buyer to purchase 5,000 individual firecrackers. People may purchase multiple permits, which can only be issued to people 18 and older. Permits are non-transferable and non-refundable and must be visibly displayed while fireworks are being set off at the site they’re being used.
The purchase of novelty fireworks and paperless firecrackers don’t require permits and fireworks sales end at midnight on New Year’s Eve, according to the fire department.
A news release from the department said permits are also being sold at nine firecracker vending outlets throughout the island, including Pacific Fireworks.
On Wednesday, visitors to the store located next to Starbucks in the Henry Street Shops mauka of Queen Kaahumanu Highway browsed the shop’s selection, looking over poppers with names like “Crazy Robot” and fountains like the popular “Waikiki Lights.”
“One of our claims to fame is that our fountains are the longest, biggest, longest-burning fountains on the island,” said Tawater, referencing the “Warhammer,” as an example, which he said is rated at three minutes.
Firecrackers line another part of Tawater’s wall, including “Duck” brand firecrackers, of which Pacific Fireworks is the exclusive vendor.
Those whose New Year’s plans include firecrackers should act fast.
“These firecrackers will sell out,” Tawater said. “So people come to us early, because if they show up on the 31st and expect to find crackers, they’ll be sold out.”
The setting off of fireworks is only allowed between the hours of 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve and 1 a.m. New Year’s Day. Setting off fireworks outside of the specified time period is illegal.
The setting off of aerial luminary devices, such as bottle rockets, roman candles and mortars, is also illegal.
It is also illegal to throw fireworks from, at or into a vehicle and illegal to set off fireworks within 1,000 feet of a hospital, care home, zoo, animal hospital or shelter, church while services are held, on school property without official approval and on a public highway, alley, street, sidewalk or park.
This past January, police said they received 25 fireworks-related calls for service between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1 — 19 of which occurred between New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. It was unknown at the time how many citations were issued for illegal aerials.
The Hawaii Fire Department is also advising “extreme care” when setting off fireworks, saying children playing with fireworks should be under close, constant adult supervision.
Fireworks should also be set off away from dry grass and other flammable materials and should be fully extinguished before being disposed of.
“And most importantly, have a fire extinguisher and/or a water hose ready to use in the event of an unplanned or unexpected fire,” the department added.
The hose should be able to reach all areas where fireworks are being set off and around the entire home. Fire officials also advise wetting down dry, grassy areas before and after setting off fireworks.