Experts: Used safely, fireworks are a real blast


By RICHARD L. BOCCIA

Pyrotechnics pose questions about the law and safety.

Mahoning Valley police and fire departments and fireworks retailers all work to strike a balance between celebration and safety during fireworks season.

Richard Tisone, interim Liberty Township police chief, said fireworks complaints and citations are rare, though there’s always the chance of someone’s getting seriously injured or killed.

“If we happen to catch anybody shooting off fireworks, we issue them a citation,” Tisone said. “Usually, a warning will suffice.”

“We don’t necessarily look for it, but if it happens to be there right in front of us, we’re going to take some type of enforcement action,” he said.

Youngstown Police Chief Jimmy Hughes agreed that, from a law-enforcement standpoint, fireworks threaten the safety of individuals and property. Hughes said that the police do not have a policy of ignoring fireworks.

“It may not be practical to chase everyone down, but we do respond,” he said.

In terms of injury, Liberty Fire Chief Michael Durkin said the area has been lucky in recent years.

“The trouble is ... you’re allowed to buy them in Ohio. Fire chiefs have been fighting that for years.”

This year, the Ohio fire marshal urges extreme caution with novelty fireworks, calling them “inherently dangerous” in a statement from the Ohio Department of Commerce.

Richard Naples Jr., co-owner of Hubbard-based Wholesale Fireworks, said licensed fireworks dealers such as his company sell the safe stuff, clearly labeled with warnings and instructions and designed to meet national safety standards.

“As business people, we don’t want people hurt,” Naples said. “The product is ‘inherently’ safer than it’s ever been, to use the fire marshal’s term.”

Part of the safety responsibility of retailers is matching customers with products, directing them to fireworks that fit the space where the fireworks will be displayed.

To customers, Naples said Wholesale asks, “Are you trying to put on a show? Are you just trying to entertain the kids? How big of an area are you doing? If you’re sitting in your backyard and just want to entertain, you want the low-level stuff.”

Fireworks customers sign forms when they enter the store agreeing to take their purchase out of the state. Naples calls the form antiquated.

“What we need to do is allow people to buy the fireworks and shoot the fireworks,” he said.

Bruce J. Zoldan, chief executive officer of Youngstown’s Phantom Fireworks, said sales could double if Ohio legalized fireworks as Indiana did in 2006.

Zoldan said he’s seen tremendous change in fireworks from the M-80s and cherry bombs that were sold when he opened up shop in the 1970s to the pyrotechnics sold today. While the items still require respect, Zoldan said he only sees one or two liability claims per year.

“I have no doubt that there are injuries every Fourth of July in the United States, but I feel confident that if you buy your fireworks from a licensed retailer and not out of the back of someone’s trunk, the risk of injury is very rare,” he said.

“We can’t regulate foolishness,” said Zoldan on the possibility of an adult giving fireworks to an unsupervised child. Both Phantom and Wholesale sell only to customers 18 years of age and older.

Legalization has long been Zoldan’s goal, based on the opportunity and the excitement he says he sees in people.

In advance of this year’s long Fourth of July weekend, customers visited the showroom of Phantom’s original store on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on Saturday, taking in the jumble of brightly colored packaging. With the stars and stripes behind him, a feral-looking bald eagle glared at shoppers from the package of “Untamed Retribution,” a 16-shot aerial firework, and Lady Liberty gazed blankly from a 21-shot box of fireworks emblazoned with the name, “Live Free or Die.”

Alisha Shenk of Cleveland remembers barbecue and fireworks from her childhood in Girard.

“There are not too many places where you can shoot fireworks off anymore,” she said while shopping with her husband, Brian. He said fireworks are safe, “as long as you’re not stupid.”

The couple brought their daughter, Brianna, who’ll be 4 in August. They said she is old enough for sparklers.

Shane Ackley shopped for a camping trip in another part of the store. He made a two-hour drive from Kane, Pa., and shared his disdain for Pennsylvania’s fireworks law, which prohibits the use of all fireworks except sparklers and small novelties.

Ackley spends up to $500 a year on fireworks including mortars — tubes that shoot shells into the air.

“If you’re responsible enough, you should be more than capable of lighting them off,” Ackley said.

He said he wears welding gloves, safety glasses and long sleeves for protection. He also secures mortars to plywood with screws before launching.

rboccia@vindy.com

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