July Fourth revelers urged to be safe while celebrating

June 27, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD


In an effort to show the dangers illegal fireworks pose to those who handle them, bomb technicians from the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office used them to shatter a watermelon, burn a hard-boiled egg and blow apart a synthetic hand during a fireworks safety demonstration Monday.

The Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office, Hagerstown Fire Department and the Washington County Volunteer Firemen's Association are joining forces this Fourth of July season to catch those who set off illegal fireworks, representatives of those agencies said Monday.

"If it goes up in the air and it explodes, it's illegal," said Allen Gosnell, deputy chief state fire marshal and Western Region commander of the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office.


Gosnell said possession and or use of illegal fireworks carries a fine up to $250, and the sale of fireworks without a license carries a fine up to $1,000.

Setting off, distributing, transporting or manufacturing a handmade explosive, such as a pyrotechnic explosive device, which is "powerful enough to cause amputation or even death," carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison and or $250,000 fine.

Bomb technicians with the state fire marshal's office lit professionally manufactured fireworks on watermelons and hard-boiled eggs to simulate what such an explosive could do to a person.

A watermelon attached to one such explosive burst, catapulting pieces of its shell more than 20 feet. To demonstrate the dangers of legal fireworks, bomb technicians held a legal sparkler against a dress shirt. The sparkler at first burned a hole in the shirt, then - within about 30 seconds - engulfed it in flames.

Hagerstown Fire Department Chief Gary Hawbaker said that around Fourth of July 2005, city fire marshals confiscated 10,000 pieces of illegal fireworks. Over the past two years, city fire marshals handed out 87 criminal violations for their use, he said.

Gosnell said fireworks sale tents being set up in Pennsylvania, just across the Maryland state line, are selling fireworks that are illegal in Maryland. He asked Maryland residents to take caution because not all fireworks sold at those tents are legal in Maryland and will be confiscated if found.

Already this year, fire marshals have confiscated from one man in Maryland between $3,000 and $4,000 worth of fireworks bought at such a stand.

Examples of legal fireworks are "snakes, gold label sparklers and snap-and-pops" or fireworks that have listed on their packaging "emits showers or sparks" and do not move around or explode, said Ed Ernst, deputy state fire marshal.

Illegal fireworks include fireworks that "move, explode or fly," he said, and include bottle rockets, Roman Candles, Cherry Bombs, M-80s, M-100s and quartersticks.

Fire marshals urge anyone who sees someone setting off an illegal firework to call their local police department.

Safety tips

The Hagerstown Fire Department offers the following tips for the safe use of legal, ground-based sparkling fireworks:

  • Follow instructions.

  • Place the device on a flat, noncombustible surface, such as concrete, stone or asphalt.

  • Keep the device away from combustibles - at least 15 feet, if not farther.

  • Soak the ground around the device with water.

  • Keep water nearby.

  • Only adults should light ground-based sparkling devices.

  • Use an extended handle lighter to ignite them.

  • Wear tight-fitted clothing when handling fireworks.

  • Douse the device with water when the discharge is complete.

  • Soak the devices in water before discarding.

Safety guidelines

The National Council on Fireworks Safety issued the following safety guidelines for the Fourth of July:

  • Obey laws, follow fireworks instructions and use common sense. If an item appears damaged, don't use it.

  • Buy fireworks from reputable and established dealers because legal fireworks are tested for quality and safety. Never build fireworks or use illegal explosives, such as M-80s or "Cherry Bombs."

  • Adults should supervise fireworks and never allow a child to handle them.

  • One firework at a time: A mix of fireworks "invite accidents."

  • Aim fireworks away from people and make sure there is a safe distance between fireworks and people, animals, homes and vehicles before setting them off.

  • Fireworks shooters should not drink alcohol. The council suggests designating a shooter who has not been drinking.

  • Wear protective eyewear and use caution.

  • Make sure a water supply is nearby and accessible. Never relight a dud; soak it in water for about 15 minutes before throwing it away.

  • The same caution should be used with sparklers as with fireworks. Don't allow children to handle sparklers.
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