Fire marshal urges locals to use fireworks safely, reminds of bottle rocket ban

Tuesday, July 1, 2008
AARON EISENHAUER * aeisenhauer@semissourian.com Spectators crowd the Mississippi riverfront in Cape to take in the beauty of the fireworks display, the finale to Libertyfest.

An accident while celebrating the Fourth of July can cause “a life changing, life altering injury,” according to Cape Girardeau Fire Marshal Mike Morgan.

Morgan said fire officials have found “a few” used bottle rockets around town and are concerned that such illegal fireworks, as well as legal consumer-class fireworks, could hurt people if not used properly.

“In the city bottle rockets are prohibited form being used. If the police are aware of this fact, they’ll do their best to make sure the law is followed,” Morgan said.

Scott City nuisance officer Mike Culler said parents should take an active role in supervising children and participating in at-home displays for maximum safety. He said identical devices can operate differently.

“Some wicks burn faster than others. They’re not toys,” he said.

Already, he said, he’s issued several verbal warnings, mostly to people who ignored Scott City’s time limits, which are 6 to 9 p.m. until the Fourth of July and 8 a.m. to midnight on the holiday itself.

“Some people like to start their festivities early,” he said. “We’re done after the Fourth of July. It’s up to the officers’ discretion to issue a warning or issue a summons.”

In Jackson, fireworks may only be discharged from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and until midnight on the Fourth of July.

“The Fourth of July always makes me nervous,” said Jason Mouser, Jackson’s fire chief. “Some years, we haven’t had a single call, and other years we’ve had 11 or 12.”

Last year’s three calls included a “small deck fire, caused by a firework that landed in some mulch.”

This year, “so far, so good,” he said.

In the city of Cape Girardeau, where at-home displays are limited to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and until midnight on the Fourth, it is illegal for anyone younger than 18 to possess fireworks without direct adult supervision, according to Cpl. Jason Selzer, police department spokesman.

He points out that bottle rockets are banned along with “anything that uses a straight, rigid stick. They can’t even sell those here,” he said.

This year the department has responded to 60 calls regarding fireworks, most for after-hours noise. Last year the department recorded 232 responses.

It is illegal to shoot off fireworks in a car, near people, from a rooftop or “on anyone else’s property without the owner’s permission,” he said.

It is illegal to use fireworks while intoxicated, and each city contacted for this story indicated patrols would be beefed up for the holiday, as much to catch illegal fireworks as to nab drunk drivers.

The Cape Girardeau Fire Department will get help from the Delta Fire Protection District, Morgan said.

He and other fire officials said the single biggest mistake made when handling the colorful explosives is not allowing for a proper distance between the firecrackers and spectators.

“You have to keep that safety margin in mind when displaying or shooting them off,” he said.

Morgan said alcohol is often a contributing factor to accidents. The small quantity of gunpowder products used to set off the light shows “can hurt and maim.”

He’s seen the results, including a child who suffered an eye injury from a misfired bottle rocket.

“He’s in his 20s now, but still living with the fact that he’s only partly able to see,” Morgan said.

Others have lost hearing after an eardrum burst from being too close to a big bang.

Even a seemingly innocent sparkler can cause serious harm.

“This is a 1,000 to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit burning rod,” Morgan said.

The fire marshal said if he had his way, people would skip the at-home shows and opt for bigger municipal displays. But Morgan offered the following safety tips for do-it-yourselfers:

Read and understand directions before using any firecrackers.

Properly supervise all activities and plan any displays.

Keep a fire extinguishers or bucket of water nearby to douse misfires.

Designate an explosives handler — someone who agrees to skip the booze in favor of lighting the fuses.

Have a safe place to put the fireworks’ remains, especially wires from spent sparklers.

The Humane Society of Missouri offers these holiday safety tips for pet owners:

Provide pets with a quiet, cool retreat, such as a basement or bathroom, as well as fresh water and their favorite toys.

Use the sound of a radio or television to muffle outside sounds.

Avoid taking pets to fireworks displays, but if you must, use a short leash and be sure dogs are wearing a collar and tags, in the event of escape.

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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