After performing a site inspection on a temporary facility in the parking lot of Wal-Mart, Cox talks about an incident where family members were seriously injured after altering fireworks in the 1970s.
“It was basically a grenade,” he said of the improvised device that exploded, injuring several people.
With retailers and fireworks tents currently selling legal sparklers and other devices, Cox and Cartersville Fire Department Fire Marshal Mark Hathaway are stressing safety measures ahead of the July Fourth holiday.
“The last thing we want is for someone to get hurt,” Cox said. “It may not be during the holidays — if it’s July Fourth, New Year’s, whatever, but somewhere along the line, just about every year, we will have a fireworks-related fire or injury in our county.”
“Each July Fourth, thousands of people, most often children and teens, are injured while using consumer fireworks,” Hathaway said in a release. “Despite the dangers of fireworks, few people understand the associated risks — devastating burns, other injuries, fires, and even death. The Cartersville Fire Department, along with the National Fire Protection Agency, suggests leaving the fireworks to the professionals and attending a public display.”
Sparklers and similar non-explosive materials are legal in Georgia, as sparklers and fountains are not classified as fireworks and are available for sale and use in the state.
The law states that the definition of prohibited fireworks shall not include: “Wire or wood sparklers of 100 grams or less of mixture per item; other sparkling items which are non-explosive and nonaerial and contain 75 grams or less of chemical compound per tube or a total of 200 grams or less for multiple tubes; snake and glow worms; trick noise makers which include paper streamers, party poppers, string poppers, snappers, and drop pops each consisting of 0.25 grains or less of explosive mixture.”
“Basically, anything that is projected above 6 feet into the air [is illegal],” Cox explained. “These are basically just glorified sparklers — it’s the only thing that’s legal in Georgia. If it propels into the air, pops, explodes, does any of that, that is illegal in the state of Georgia.
“If you have gone across to Alabama, if you’ve went north to Tennessee and you have purchased fireworks outside the state of Georgia that is not in a package that’s here, sold in some of these facilities ... and you bring them back across the state line and you discharge those — it’s even illegal to have those in your possession in the state of Georgia — if you do any of that, you are breaking Georgia law and are subject to prosecution.”
Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens said in a release that the sale and use of illegal fireworks is punishable by a maximum fine of up to $1,000 and up to one year in jail.
“You are dealing with explosives. Even these sparklers are ... an igniteable explosive,” Cox said. “If you alter, change, take apart, try to build back, you are breaking the law. That’s the reason Georgia has such strict laws and restrictions is because they don’t want people doing things they aren’t supposed to, but it still happens.”
In a typical year, two-thirds to three-fourths of all fireworks injuries occur during the four-week period surrounding Independence Day, Hudgens said. On the Fourth of July itself, fireworks usually start more fires nationwide than all other causes combined.
“We are teaching people to do it. The reason being is, we are putting on displays all over,” Cox said. “... Just here in our county we have the country club, we have Dellinger Park and the yacht club. That’s three huge ones right here. ... A lot of folks say, ‘Well, I don’t want to deal with the traffic. ... We’ll go buy our own. We’ll spend a couple hundred dollars across the state lines and bring them back and then we’ll do our own show.’ When that happens, then things start happening.
“There are documented cases of people setting these things off in their house for entertainment purposes. People just not thinking. Adults need to learn you don’t do it on the bow of a boat, you don’t do it out of the back of a truck, you don’t do it out of the garage at an angle so it looks funny, you don’t do it up on a wooden deck at a pool, all these other things. People don’t seem to be able to get past the times now, the thrill factor, what’s good right now. They don’t think about 30 seconds after it goes off, what’s going to happen then? And that’s what we are trying to do is educate folks.”
For more information, visit www.nfpa.org.
• In 2011, fireworks caused an estimated 17,800 reported fires, including 1,200 total structure fires, 400 vehicle fires, and 16,300 outside and other fires. These fires resulted in an estimated eight reported civilian deaths, 40 civilian injuries and $32 million in direct property damage.
• In 2011, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 9,600 people for fireworks-related injuries; 61 percent of 2011 emergency room fireworks-related injuries were to the extremities and 34 percent were to the head.
• On Independence Day in a typical year, far more U.S. fires are reported than on any other day, and fireworks account for two out of five of those fires, more than any other cause of fires.
• 92 percent of the fireworks injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms involved fireworks that federal regulations permit consumers to use.
• Kids should never play with fireworks. The risk of injury is 2 1/2 times as high for children ages 5-14.
• Sparklers can reach 1,200 degrees — hot enough to cause third-degree burns.
• Always have a bucket of water for duds and to cool sparkler sticks which can stay hot after they are out. Don’t throw firework debris in the trash right away soak it in water then wait 20 minutes before discarding.
— Source: NFPA’s Fireworks report, by John R. Hall, Jr., June 2013