Group Seeks Stop To Consumer Fireworks

Independence Day is just a couple days away, and after the barbecues, road trips and parties, the fireworks are the main event.

And with them, come the annual fireworks safety reminders and warnings.
Two weeks ago the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) released its Fireworks Report, which shows that in 2010 alone, an estimated 15,500 fires and 8,600 emergency room visits were caused by consumer fireworks.

The NFPA is now teaming with the American Academy of Pediatrics and 21 other state and national organizations to form the “Alliance to Stop Consumer Fireworks (ASCF).”

“Thousands of people are treated in U.S. emergency rooms each year because of incidents involving consumer fireworks and many times these injuries are extremely painful and require long-term recovery,” said NFPA president James Shannon in a news release. “Using consumer fireworks is simply not worth the risk. We encourage families to enjoy public displays of fireworks conducted by trained professionals.”

Beth Thune, of Memory Fireworks on West Main Street, said she was unaware of the ASCF.

“I didn’t even know that that existed,” she said. “I know that people are people are trying to get bottle rockets back.”

Beth (Lewellyn) Thune grew up in Valley City, and she and her husband Dave, both healthcare workers in Bismarck, have returned for three years in a row to operate the local Memory Fireworks stand with their two kids and dog.

The Bismarck-based fireworks company is over 30 years old and has 33 stores in North Dakota and Minnesota. Many of the stores are operated by single families like the Thunes. The company has many North Dakota-themed packages and this year Memory has special packages to benefit Minot flood victims and North Dakota troops.

Thune said for many, the Fourth of July is a family holiday as much as it is a national holiday.

“This is what some people do; this is what they wait for all year. I’ll tell you, the first day when we opened - there’s nothing like a little boy walking in here; it’s like Christmas for some people.”

Thune said the company sells a safe product as long as it’s used responsibly.

“Supervision is important and following the rules is the safest thing. A lot of people ask ‘Hey, do you hold these Roman candles in your hand?’ You should not hold any fireworks in your hand. Every firework should be lit, and walk away from it.”

Valley City Fire Chief Gary Retterath said countless injuries occur from fireworks each year, mostly from carelessness, and asks people to not become complacent. “Things can go bad in a hurry. This can be the best of times and this can be the worst of times,” he said.

Like Thune, Retterath also stresses adult supervision around children. He remembers responding to a fire in 1987 where bottle rockets had ignited the roof of a Valley City house. Children were running around the neighborhood lighting them off haphazardly; spent bottle rocket remains littered the ground and he said it wasn’t hard to figure out the cause of the fire.

“It was a clear day, so it obviously wasn’t lightning,”
That incident led to the Valley City City Commission banning bottle rockets and Roman candles in the city limits later that year.

Retterath asks adults to take their responsibility seriously, be strict on the proper use of fireworks and light them off in a safe place on a flat surface so they don’t tip over. He also asks that people find safe places to shoot them off, away from dry grass and buildings.

Arguably, the most notable fireworks incident in the area occurred just last year when 41-year-old Jesse Wiliam Burley of Fargo was decapitated when he lit off illegal fireworks in the Riviera Heights mobile home park in Fargo, but the ASCF says legal fireworks can be just as dangerous.

The Fireworks Report states fireworks caused eight deaths and $36 million in fires in 2010. The risk of fireworks injury was highest for children ages 5-14 and sparklers and novelties alone accounted for 38 percent of 2010s fireworks injuries.

Retterath said consumer fireworks can be used safely as long as good safety practices are used.

“There are many who wished they did because they are living with some very ugly scars,” he said.

Firework Safety Tips:
-Never hold a firework of any kind (sprinkler, fire cracker, fountain, bottle rocket) in your hand
-Keep spectators at a safe distance of 40 feet for aerial fireworks
-Have a bucket of water and a garden hose close by
-Have eye protection for those setting off the displays
-Use a barbecue lighter or a punk to light your fireworks
-Do not try to light dud fireworks that did not go off again
-Put all used fireworks in a garbage can and wet them down with a hose
-Do not put the garbage can in the garage for the night
-Always read and follow label directions.
-Have an adult present.
-Buy from reliable sellers.
-Use outdoors only.
-Always have water handy (a garden hose and a bucket).
-Never experiment or make your own fireworks.
-Light only one firework at a time.
-Never give fireworks to small children.
-If necessary, store fireworks in a cool, dry place.
-Never throw or point fireworks at other people.
-Never carry fireworks in your pocket.
-Never shoot fireworks in metal or glass containers.
-Stay away from illegal explosives.