Fire Marshal urges caution when lighting off fireworks

By Ben Holbrook | Jun 30, 2012

The Fourth of July is here, and that means many families will be enjoying cookouts and nighttime fireworks displays. For those opting to put on their own fireworks shows, there are a few precautions that should be taken to ensure a fun and safe Independence Day celebration.

The Maine Legislature approved a bill to allow the use and sale of fireworks in 2011, and the new law took effect in January 2012. Under the new law, it is legal to sell and purchase consumer fireworks, and there is a licensing protocol for anyone who sells fireworks. The new law also gives cities and towns the authority to enact bans regarding the sale and use of fireworks.

Missile-type rockets, helicopters and aerial spinners, sky rockets and bottle rockets are still illegal to sell, use or possess in the state of Maine, according to the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Unity, Belfast and Northport (within Bayside) have implemented ordinances banning the sale or use of fireworks.

Acting State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said there are two major restrictions residents need to be aware of when purchasing and using fireworks. Fireworks can only be sold, purchased and possessed by a person who is at least 21 years old. The second restriction requires any fireworks to be used on a persons own property, or with written consent from a property owner if used in a different location, Thomas said

"People should also be aware that if we find a juvenile who is using fireworks and we determine those fireworks were provided by a person who was 21 then they are facing a criminal charge," Thomas said. "This isn't a misdemeanor; it's serious stuff."

As an added precaution, Thomas recommends having a garden hose and bucket of water near to where the fireworks will be used in the chance a device malfunctions. If a device fails to ignite properly, Thomas said it should be left alone for 15 minutes and then picked up using a shovel or similar tool with a handle before letting the device soak in a bucket of water for an extended period of time.

According to a report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 65 percent of all the fireworks-related accidents reported in 2011 occurred within a 30-day period of July 4. Most injuries involved burns to the victim's hands and face, with sparklers, firecrackers and aerial devices accounting for the majority of the accidents, according to the CPSC.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office offers the following safety tips when using fireworks:

• Purchase only Maine-permissible consumer fireworks, available at licensed stores, and only the quantity that you will use.
• Only those 21 or older can possess or use consumer fireworks.
• Always wear eye protection and follow all directions provided.
• Light only one device at a time.
• Keep spectators at a safe distance and be considerate of neighbors, pets and the environment.
• Clean up all debris when finished.
• Devices that do not discharge should be placed in water, after setting alone for 15 min.
• Always make sure that unused fireworks, matches and lighters are kept out of the reach of children.

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at bholbrook@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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