Fireworks safety comes to forefront

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 3, 2003

Local fire officials want to remind the community to be safe and obey the law when it comes time to celebrate Independence Day with some backyard pyrotechnics.

Since the Scottown fire in 1996, fireworks regulations have become more stringent, but there are still one or two deaths across the state each year, Ironton Fire Chief Tom Runyon said.

In 2002, 8,800 people went to the emergency room with fireworks-related injuries, according to a release from the State Fire Marshal's office.

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The Ironton Fire Department usually responds to a few minor fires caused by fireworks that start in grass, trees or dumpsters. Several years ago, fireworks caused a major structure fire when a bottle rocket landed in the soffit and caught a bird's nest on fire, Runyon said.

"The Fourth is a fun time of the year, but fireworks are not toys," said Captain Mike Mahlmeister, Ironton's fire inspector. "They are dangerous and can cause permanent physical injuries, as well as damage to property."

With only about 55 legal fireworks vendors in the state and a moratorium on new dealers until 2005, it is important for people to make sure what they are buying is from a licensed dealer and to find out if they can be legally used in the state, Mahlmeister said.

According to Ohio law, only four types of fireworks can be legally set off in the state - smoke creating, snakes, most sparklers and snaps and trick novelties.

The confusion comes from the fact that all other types of fireworks can be sold in Ohio, but the purchaser must sign an agreement to take the fireworks out of state. But the problem with this is that the only two states where it is illegal to use these types of fireworks are Utah and Hawaii, Mahlmeister said.

According to the State Fire Marhsal's Office, fireworks that can be purchased but not used in the state include bottle rockets, cones, firecrackers, helicopters, pinwheels, large sparklers on bamboo sticks, Roman candles, whistlers, ground items such as jumping jacks and more.

So far, there has only been one instance this year in which someone was illegally selling fireworks in the city and these were confiscated, he said.

It is important for people to only use fireworks legally allowed and to obey all the directions, Mahlmeister said.

"As long as you use common sense and follow the directions on the box, you should not have any problems," he said.

Anyone who sets off fireworks illegally would be held liable for any injuries or damage because they signed a waiver when they purchased the products, he said.

"The holiday does put us on guard. We are sitting on the edge of our seats a little more," Mahlmeister said. "In this job, anything could happen at any time. If we do have a fire, we are more apt to look and see if anything like (fireworks) caused it."

Although Ironton does not have a fireworks display of its own, Coal Grove and Ashland, Ky., offer public displays that should allow people to enjoy the holiday safely, he said.