|PLAYING WITH FIRE
Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said a bid to legalize fireworks would lead to more injuries in the state.
Fireworks linked to 13 injuries this month
Saugus man hurt; house fire ignited
There were at least 13 fireworks-related injuries since July 3 in the state, including an ill-timed detonation that left a young Saugus man with severe facial burns and a house fire in Spencer caused by a sparkler, according to figures from state fire officials.
“Some of these devices are small and look innocent, so children and parents may think they’re safe, when in reality they are very dangerous,’’ State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said in an interview late last week. Three people were hurt in fireworks-related incidents from July 1 to July 10 last year.
Just days prior to the July Fourth weekend, the state’s Department of Fire Services held a demonstration at its headquarters on the dangers of fireworks. In one demonstration, a mannequin’s head was obliterated after a small aerial firework exploded in front of its face.
That demonstration, according to Coan, was reminiscent of what happened July 3, when a 21-year-old Saugus man received severe injuries to his face. He looked directly into a firework to see why it stopped firing, and it blew up in his face, Coan said.
Saugus Fire Chief James Blanchard declined to say whether alcohol was a factor in the incident involving the 21-year-old, but he did say: “Most of these incidents are alcohol-involved. When you review it, it comes down to careless error, of a person who may be otherwise a good thinker, but under those circumstances makes mistakes.’’
Fire officials said the 13 injuries this month included a 9-year-old Holbrook girl who received burns to 8 percent of her body after an exploding firecracker ignited her clothing July 3; three people injured by fireworks in West Bridgewater July 4; and a teenage girl injured at an illegal fireworks show in Granby July 9. A Connecticut boy was hurt playing with fireworks in Holland July 3, suffering burns over at least 5 percent of his body.
Jennifer Mieth, a Fire Services spokeswoman, said the house fire in Spencer July 3 began after ash from a sparkler fell and ignited nearby trash. She said the fire cut off a rear exit and spread to a first-floor bathroom, but was quickly put out by firefighters. Several children and a tenant were in the house, but there were no injuries.
Although Massachusetts is one of four states in the country that prohibit the use of fireworks, they can be obtained from nearby states that allow them, such as New Hampshire.
“The availability of fireworks in neighboring states is clearly a contributing factor to use here,’’ Coan said. “We are in the minority. The fireworks industry is a well-financed one, They have the resources to attract people. They have billboards on our highways directing people to locations to buy, and then there’s direct mailing. It’s all very slick packaging, very slick and enticing.’’
In addition to the Commonwealth, New York, Delaware, and New Jersey ban fireworks.
Sparklers, those slender sticks that emit white-hot flecks, typically cause the most injuries, as the temperature of the particles can rise to more than 1,500 degrees, officials said. Bottle rockets, small firecrackers, reloadable shells, and novelties also account for a large number of injuries nationwide, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Julie L. Heckman - executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association. based in Bethesda, Md. - said that if Massachusetts were to relax the ban, consumers would probably become safer handlers of fireworks.
“Typically when people are knowingly breaking the law, they’re careless and don’t take the necessary time to read the instructions or take other precautions,’’ she said by phone. “Americans will use fireworks to celebrate whether they are legal or not. The injuries tend to go down when the products are authorized for use. Right now in Massachusetts, it’s a bootleg black market.’’
Last year, according to the Department of Fire Services, there were 95 fires and explosions related to fireworks that resulted in more than $1 million in property damage, the highest totals since 2007, when there were 116 fires and explosions, but only $163,000 in damage to property.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 8,600 fireworks injuries were treated in emergency rooms across the country last year, 200 less than in 2009. In 2008, 7,000 people were treated. Children younger than 15 accounted for 40 percent of those injured last year.
In Massachusetts from 2001-2010, 43 people sustained burns over more than 5 percent of their body from fireworks-related incidents, state fire statistics show.
A bill by state Representative Richard Bastien, a Republican from Gardner, would allow cities and towns to issue fireworks permits to adults and sales licenses to a resident wholesale fireworks dealer or retailer. Anyone holding a permit would be restricted to using it on their own property, at a time specified by a safety official from their town or city.
“This basically sends a message saying that we all know that the ban doesn’t work, so let’s bring in public safety officials to monitor activities and educate residents,’’ Bastien said by phone.
Coan said the bill would lead to more injuries. “I think it’s a terrible idea to legalize fireworks.’’