MONMOUTH — Jay Blais punches up a video on the computer pad and a small grin creases his face. It’s a bit slow at first, the hiss of the fuse igniting firecrackers that release a puff of smoke.

But then the fuse reaches the coil. In less than 60 seconds nearly 16,000 explode in a controlled mayhem of sound, smoke and light.

“You do that at a barbecue and nobody will ever forget it,” Blais said.

Blais, who recently opened Patriot Fireworks in town with his business partner Tim Bolduc, is counting on the capacity of fireworks to make occasions memorable and the public’s willingness to pay for them. Blais is encouraged by what he has seen since the store opened May 12.

“It’s been very steady,” he said. “We’re very pleased. A lot of people are very curious to know what it’s all about.”

Patriot Fireworks is second store in Kennebec County and just the fourth in the state to begin selling consumer fireworks since the ban on such sales was lifted this year. Pyro City owner Steve Marson has opened stores in Manchester, Winslow and Edgecomb, said Richard Taylor of the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Marson said last month that he plans to open stores in Presque Isle and Ellsworth by July. Phantom Fireworks, a national chain, is preparing a store in Scarborough.

“We think that by July 4, there will be nine or more stores running,” Taylor said.

Blais, 39, of Greene, and Bolduc, 36, of Wales, spent several months picking a site and getting it ready to open. The men, who own a flooring company in Sabattus, settled on leasing the former fruit stand at the intersection of Bog Road and U.S. Route 202.

“When I pulled up to it, it just felt like a fireworks store,” Bolduc said.

Not only is the store in an area of high visibility, Blais said, but it met strict construction and setback guidelines required by the state.

Bolduc said Blais called him the same day last year when Gov. Paul LePage signed the bill making firework sales legal.

“I said, ‘I know what we’re going to do,'” Blais continued. “He said, ‘OK.'”

The men recently completed upgrades to the building, which ranged from a new coat of fireproof paint to a new sprinkler system attached to a tank in the ground that holds several hundred gallons of water. Bolduc said they counted on builders and tradesmen to install the systems that would satisfy the state.

“There were a lot of people involved to get this up and running,” Bolduc said.

New business owners always face a learning curve, but the grade gets much steeper when you are selling a product that has been illegal for years and continues to be highly regulated. The men hope the video display will help their customers learn what the different fireworks will do and how to safely use them.

“It’s all new to everybody,” Bolduc said.

Fireworks education

Firefighters, too, are having to learn how to deal with fires and other incidents at stores that sell fireworks, said Monmouth Fire Chief Dan Roy Jr.

Dozens of firefighters from Monmouth and mutual aid communities toured Patriot Fireworks Thursday night and then took part in a training session offered by the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Firefighters went over the store’s hose connections, fire suppression systems, alarms and the location of all the exits.

“The layout of the store is pretty simplistic,” Roy said. “It’s a wide open retail space with two large rooms, so you can see from one end to the other. If anything were to ever go wrong, it’s good for the public and people who work there. They would be able to get out easily.”

Roy said fire departments and store owners must continue to educate the public on details of the law, such as the prohibition against anyone 20 or younger from buying or using fireworks. The law also prohibits people from using fireworks on property owned by someone else without permission.

“I think there are a lot of things people just don’t know,” Roy said.

Roy, a professional fire investigator, said his biggest concern with the new law is that it lacks regulations guiding commercial fireworks companies. Those regulations require specific setbacks from people and buildings based on the diameter of the shell being used.

“You can go into these stores and by product right off the shelf with a 3-inch diameter and there are no rules on how close you can get to people or buildings,” Roy said. “That’s a serious issue and I think we could run into problems.”

Some fireworks sold publicly are designed to go as high as 200 feet in the air, Roy said. If they are ignited in the direction of a building or a person they could cause significant damage or injury, he said.

“That’s something the public really needs to be aware of,” Roy said.

To date, Taylor said he has heard few complaints from firefighters or the public.

“People are curious, obviously,” he said. “We get a lot of questions about what people can use and what they can’t use. Occasionally people are unhappy, but not generally. The season’s just beginning.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]