It is illegal in Ohio to use anything more powerful than trick or novelty fireworks, and Pennsylvania allows only sparklers or caps for toy guns.
By PHIL NOVAK
VINDICATOR STAFF REPORTER
Last year, fireworks sent an estimated 11,000 people into emergency rooms across the country and killed 10 others, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Nearly half the injured were younger than 15.
Between June 23 and July 23, 2000, an estimated 6,600 people went to the emergency room for fireworks injuries.
Warning: Now the fireworks season has begun again, and the Ohio state fire marshal warns everyone to follow the laws and be careful.
"We had approximately 350 injuries that required emergency room visits from the two weeks before to the week after the Fourth of July," Robert R. Rielage said. "The injuries occur to hearing, eyes and hands, as well as burns."
Rielage said it is illegal in Ohio for anyone other than an exhibitor to use anything more powerful than trick and novelty fireworks such as sparklers and smoke bombs, which can be sold and used anywhere in the state.
James J. Carey, Pennsylvania state fire marshal, said only sparklers or caps for toy guns are legal there.
"Our laws are pretty strict here," he said. "The only people that can possess fireworks must be licensed and bonded."
Rielage said all fireworks, regardless of their size or power, can be dangerous in the wrong hands.
Sparklers: "Even the trick and novelty fireworks can be dangerous," he said. "The sparklers can burn at a temperature of 1,200 degrees. This is not something you should be handing to a 3-year-old child."
Young children, Rielage said, often burn their hands with sparklers, and they sometimes drop them on their clothing or throw them in the air. According to the CPSC, 1,200 people went to the hospital for sparkler injuries from June 23 to July 23 of last year.
"At that temperature, clothes catch fire very quickly," Rielage said. "And if they throw it, you never know where a child's going to throw it."
The most common injuries involve consumer fireworks, including firecrackers, bottle rockets and Roman candles. Nearly 3,000 injuries from bottle rockets and firecrackers needed medical attention across the country in the four weeks surrounding July Fourth last year.
Consumer fireworks can be purchased by anyone in Ohio from one of 52 licensed operations, but the buyer must sign a form stating he or she will take the fireworks out of Ohio within 48 hours. Carey said Pennsylvania does not have any fireworks stores.
For those who purchase fireworks in Ohio and do not remove them, a first-time offense can be a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in prison, Rielage said.
"That's still a misdemeanor, but that's a maximum misdemeanor," he said. "People say, 'Well, I'll get by with it.' But I'll tell you, if they injure somebody or cause a fire, you can believe there isn't a prosecutor in the 88 counties in Ohio that won't go after somebody for possession of illegal fireworks as part of the charges."
Children get hurt: Rielage said children are most often affected by misuse of consumer fireworks.
"At least 50 percent of these injuries are children," he said.
But Carey said fireworks injuries can happen to anyone, even people who should maybe know better.
"A couple of years ago, we had a chief at a volunteer fire department blow up some fireworks and blow up part of himself," he said. "He was partially disfigured from the accident."
Carey said everyone should just watch the professionals do the shows.
The only other fireworks available in Ohio are known as display or exhibitor fireworks, and they can be sold only to a licensed manufacturer, wholesaler or exhibitor.
"The majority of the injuries that we have in the public displays are really to the exhibitors themselves," Rielage said. "They wind up forgetting where they are in the display, and they turn around and they're facing a mortar tube or something like that."
Banned fireworks: The federal government banned several fireworks, including M-80s, cherry bombs and anything containing more than 50 milligrams of gun powder. Rielage said these items are more like explosives than fireworks.
"Items such as M-80s are really the equivalent of a quarter-stick of dynamite," he said. "Possessing explosives without a proper permit and a license is certainly a federal offense, and because it is a federal offense, it would mean it is a felony of some degree. The feds don't go after people for misdemeanors."
Rielage said the potency of the display fireworks comes very close to the potency of the illegal fireworks, and that's why the storage and distribution of those fireworks are regulated by the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
The Fourth of July can easily be safe, Rielage said, as long as everyone remains cautious.
"Especially with children," he said. "Even with the sparklers. What we say is, you wouldn't hand your child a lighted candle and tell them to go run in the yard. There has to be a responsible adult supervising at all times."