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For safety’s sake, leave fireworks to the pros, officials say

By Staff | Jul 3, 2010

With the Fourth of July on Sunday, Cape Coral officials are urging residents to skip the do-it-yourself show and leave the fireworks to the professionals.
“There are no safe fireworks,” said Dave Webster, public education specialist with the Cape Coral Fire Department. “We can’t say it enough times — fireworks are illegal, fireworks are dangerous.”
In 2008, fireworks caused an estimated 22,500 reported fires nationwide, including 1,400 structure fires, 500 vehicle fires, and 20,600 outside and other fires. These fires resulted in one death, 40 injuries and $42 million in property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 7,000 people for fireworks related injuries, the NFPA reported. Of those injuries, 37 percent were to the head, eye or face and 53 percent were to the extremities, such as the arms, hands, fingers, legs or shoulders. Males accounted for 62 percent of these.
Webster added that fireworks are illegal in Florida under state statutes.
“If it leaves the ground or makes a loud sound, it it illegal,” he said.
According to Florida Statutes, fireworks are described as “firecrackers, torpedoes, skyrockets, roman candles” and others. Fireworks do not include sparklers, snake and glow worms, smoke devices, snappers and party poppers, among other “novelties and trick noisemakers.”
Webster explained that tent operators can sell the fireworks by having customers sign a wavier that indicates that the fireworks are for an agricultural use, Webster said.
State statutes permit selling fireworks for “frightening birds from agricultural works and fish hatcheries.”
“They’re illegal in the state of Florida based on the statutes, but because of loopholes in the law, they are allowed to sell them,” Webster said.
Stores are permitted to sell fireworks without a wavier because they sell a different kind of product in a smaller quantity than roadside sales tents, he explained. As permanent structures, they also have different regulations.
“We know that there are fireworks out there and we expect people to use them and we’re prepared for that,” he said.
The Cape Fire Department responds to a few fireworks related calls every Fourth of July, which usually involve small grass fires ignited from fireworks falling on someone’s property or the property of a neighbor. Calls reporting an injury are rare, but are still a concern for the department, he explained.
“What we’re more concerned about is the injury factor,” Webster said.
According to the NFPA, 57 percent of the fireworks injuries were burns in 2008, while 20 percent were contusions and lacerations. Of the emergency room injuries, 32 percent were due to fountains, sparklers and novelties. Sparklers, often given to children, can reach 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit.
“If they’re going to set off fireworks, and we know they are, they need to do it away from buildings,” Webster said.
Set off fireworks from a hard, nonflammable surface like a driveway. If only grassy areas are available, place a piece of plywood down. Officials also urge residents to have water nearby in a bucket or, preferably, a hose because it offers a sustained water supply. Only adults should shoot off the fireworks.
“Youth and animals need to be kept back at a safe distance,” Webster said.
The NFPA reported that two out of five people, or 40 percent, injured by fireworks in 2008 were under the age of 15. The risk of fireworks injury was highest for teens ages 15-10 and children ages 5-9, with both age groups at least 2-1/2 times the risk of the general population.
Webster added that even after taking the above precautions, shooting off fireworks at home is not safe to do.
“The only safe way to enjoy fireworks is to go to a professional fireworks display,” he said.