Local officials encourage safety over holiday weekend

  • Ground-based sparklers are for sale at Tri-State Fireworks stand on Dual Highway show caution information on front of each device.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer,

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- With the Fourth of July approaching, area residents are preparing to fire up their grills, break out the fireworks and head for the water as they pay tribute to the nation's 234th birthday.

But before jumping into holiday festivities, there are some things those celebrating Independence Day can do that help ensure a safe holiday, officials say.

Mike Weller, public education officer for the Hagerstown Fire Department, said Maryland is one of the country's strictest states regarding fireworks use.

"Any product that flies, moves, spins, explodes or makes a loud boom is an illegal item," he said. "If you see the word 'Warning,' it is definitely illegal in the state of Maryland."

The legal displays also do not shoot sparks into the air, he said.

"The only fireworks that are legal in the state of Maryland are what are called ground-based sparkling devices," he said.

Weller said those products are designed for use only at ground level. The misuse of the manufacturer's instructions for those legal products could result in a fine, he cautioned.


Weller said the most obvious way to tell if the firework item is legal in Maryland is by purchasing it from a reputable dealer within the state.

"If they live in Maryland, they need to buy the product in Maryland," he said.

Weller said the transportation of illegal fireworks into Maryland could result in a penalty of $250 per item.

"Bottle rockets come in a pack of 20," he said. "So if you use three before we get there, that's a penalty of $250 times 17."

On the grill

Although fireworks safety remains a concern each season, holiday hazards do not end there.

Maryland Park Ranger Dave Weesner, at the South Mountain Recreation Area, said there have been several minor grilling accidents in the park this year.

Such incidents can be avoided if users are educated on the proper uses of grilling equipment, he said.

"As far as the grill goes, we have to make sure children stay away from the grill because it's so hot," Weesner said. "Keep an eye on younger kids especially."

Weesner said cooking safety at state parks is not only limited to grilling.

He said each camp site has a designated area for fires, but even approved areas could be dangerous if not used properly.

"The bigger the fire is, the more dangerous it can become," Weesner said. "When we have dry seasons, it is dangerous if you're not attending your fire. It can get out of control. It is actually illegal to have an unattended fire."

He said it can be hazardous to leave food unattended in the park.

"If (people) are camping in the parks, don't leave food around to attract animals," Weesner said. "Trash or food should be properly stored to make sure animals can't get to it."


Warm temperatures and holiday weekends draw people to the water, and authorities say it's important to think about safety when cruising on the Potomac River.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources in a press release offered some safety tips for those taking to the water.

DNR said remember the acronym SAFE when going out into the river:

S -- Survey or examine the vessel's hull, engine and navigational equipment for serviceability.

A -- Anticipate the needs of the trip before leaving the dock.

F -- File a float plan with a friend or relative to let someone know where you are going, how long you will be gone and your expected return time.

E -- Ensure that all equipment is in good condition.

Sgt. Art Windemuth of the Maryland Natural Resources Police said the best way to be safe on the water is to wear a lifejacket at all times.

Under a new Maryland law, children younger than 13 must wear lifejackets at all times when riding in vessels that are less than 21 feet and are under way, meaning that the vessel is either moving or drifting or not anchored or tied up.

Windemuth encouraged adults also to wear lifejackets of the correct size and type.

"There are several different types of lifejackets to suit people's needs," Windemuth said. "Accidents happen quickly, and sometimes too quickly to put on a lifejacket, and this has resulted in fatalities."

Windemuth said it's dangerous to use alcohol and drugs when boating.

"There were 16 ... boating accidents that resulted in 17 boating fatalities last year, which is up from the previous year, and the use of alcohol or drugs caused over half of the boating fatalities," he said.

Although it is not against the law to have alcoholic beverages on a boat, it is illegal to drink and drive a watercraft.

Another precaution to take when on the river is to have a way of communicating in case of an emergency. Windemuth said he would advise boaters to buy a Marine VHF radio that is monitored by the Coast Guard and DNR police.

He said that in an emergency, boaters can turn to channel 16 and call for help. If a cell phone is on board, boaters can call 911 or the Statewide Communication Center at 1-800-628-9944 or 410-260-8888, he said.

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