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Fireworks safety concerns escalate

Legal sparklers are more popular in Md.

Legal sparklers are more popular in Md.

June 23, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Last year about this time, area fire officials were worried about how the newly legalized types of fireworks in Maryland were going to interact with drought conditions in the Tri-State area during the Fourth of July holiday.

There were no major incidents last year, although there was some confusion over the new law in Maryland that allowed ground-based sparkling devices for the first time in 60 years.

"We were taking fireworks off the shelves all over the place last year," said Wayne Smith, a Hagerstown fire marshal. "So far this year, that hasn't happened - everybody has been in compliance."

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This year, the weather has been unseasonably wet instead of dry like it was in the summer of 2002. But as the holiday approaches, concerns are mounting and safety always is at the top of everyone's list.

"A number of sites have cropped in Hagerstown just for the sale of fireworks," said Tom Brown, who heads up the Hagerstown fire marshal's office.

Huge tents are springing up in area parking lots of stores such as Ames and Kmart. At convenience stores, shelves are bulging with colorful packages of fireworks.

"We are inspecting them all," Brown said, adding that proprietors have been very cooperative.

Ground-based sparkling devices are defined in Maryland as those that sit on the ground and spew sparks. They cannot launch a projectile or explode.

In addition, hand-held, gold-label sparklers, snap-n-pops, black snakes and champagne party poppers are allowed, according to the Maryland State Fire Marshal's office.

Roman candles, bottle rockets and other devices that explode are illegal in Maryland, said State Fire Marshal William Barnard. Possession of these illegal fireworks in Maryland is subject to a fine of up to $250.

Also posing a threat are explosive devices made to look like fireworks, Barnard said. Those include quarter sticks, blockbusters and M-100s, all of which are capable of maiming or killing the user or bystanders.

Possession of those devices is a felony in Maryland, punishable by up to 25 years in prison and/or fines of $250,000, Barnard said.

In Pennsylvania, basically anything that goes "boom" is against the law, said Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Skip Sydnor, who is the fire marshal in Franklin County, Pa.

While there are fines for those who break the fireworks laws, Sydnor said he is more concerned about the costs in injuries, or worse, that can occur when people buy and set off dangerous fireworks.

Steve Allen, director of the Berkeley County (W.Va.) Office of Emergency Services, said all he can do is remind people that fireworks are unpredictable explosives and can be deadly.

"We strongly urge Berkeley County residents to leave the use of fireworks to the professionals," Allen said.

According to West Virginia state code, sparklers and novelty items such as snakes, glow worms and other sparkling devices that can emit showers of sparks are allowed.

Certain common sense rules are advised:

  • Keep fireworks away from small children. Let children enjoy them from a distance.

  • Avoid using fireworks when drinking alcoholic beverages. Alcohol impairs judgment and reaction times, making an injury more likely.

  • Consider attending one of the numerous public fireworks displays scheduled each year. A list of those events will be published in The Herald-Mail on Sunday, June 29.
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