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Police making more arrests for illegal fireworks

July 22, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN

gregs@herald-mail.com

On fireworks patrol this year, things got a little hotter than usual for Assistant City Fire Marshal Doug DeHaven when an illegal firework buzzed by his head.

"I felt the heat on my head when I ducked," DeHaven said Thursday.

What he felt was an illegal Roman candle fireball that was used carelessly by a youth at a party, DeHaven said. The incident resulted in a $250 citation for firing illegal fireworks, a mandatory court date and a reckless endangerment charge against the shooter, DeHaven said.

DeHaven said during a Thursday press conference at City Hall that fire officials stepped up enforcement of illegal fireworks this year. He said there also appeared to be increased illegal fireworks activity.

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During the enforcement drive, the city had its biggest haul in confiscated fireworks in recent memory and 17 people were given citations for either shooting off illegal fireworks or having them in their possession, DeHaven said.

Over the two weeks surrounding the July Fourth holiday, city officials said Thursday that they confiscated more than 8,000 pieces of illegal fireworks, including little packs of firecrackers, bottle rockets and high-flying, explosive mortar rockets.

Many of those fireworks were on display in a conference room in City Hall Thursday. Some were in evidence bags, indicating they still had use in the court system before they are to be destroyed by the Maryland State Fire Marshal's office.

The only types of fireworks that are legal inside city limits are hand-held sparklers and ground-based sparklers, often called fountains. The city follows the same regulation as the state does.

To be legal, the ground-based sparklers can't shoot anything more than sparks. They can make noise, but generally speaking, "if it flies, if it spins, if it moves or if it explodes, it's more than likely illegal," said Richard Miller, also an assistant fire marshal for the city.

DeHaven said two people were injured as a result of fireworks accidents this year. One 5-year-old boy suffered burns when his clothes caught fire, and a passenger inside a car also was burned when someone inside the car lit a bottle rocket.

Officials said that while some of the illegal activity was from careless use - one citation resulted from someone tossing a fountain off a roof - most seem to be from out-of-state purchases.

Deputy State Fire Marshal Edward Ernst said he saw a similar pattern this year. While he confiscated fewer pieces of fireworks, about 600, he issued 13 citations for possession or firework use.

"Everything that's coming in is from out of state," Ernst said. But there's little that can be done to prevent people from bringing the illegal pieces into Maryland, so authorities have to try to catch them in the act.

Ernst said he felt there was an unusual number of cases in which legal fireworks weren't used properly, such as in mailboxes, under mulch piles, or they were given by adults to minors. That type of activity could lead to more restrictions, he said.

Miller said he sees the problem continuing.

"I don't know what the easiest solution is other than to outlaw them all," Miller said.

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