Experts offer tips on using fireworks

COVINGTON -- Celebrating the red, white and blue on the Fourth is an integral part of American culture, but most agree it is not without safety issues.

Bringing out the traditional fireworks all too often results in an unhappy visit to the hospital emergency room or worse. Newton County Fire Service Fire Safety Educator Lt. Cydnie Taylor and Covington Fire Department Chief Don Floyd urge Newton residents to use common sense and go the extra mile in making sure any fire-related activities are conducted in a safe manner.

Residents should remember that only sparklers and similar nonexplosive fireworks are legal in Georgia, but even these devices can cause serious injury and property damage.

Georgia 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."

According to Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John Oxendine, the sale and use of most types of fireworks, including firecrackers, skyrockets, and cherry bombs (or anything that becomes airborne), is illegal in Georgia and punishable by a maximum fine of up to $1,000 and up to one year in jail.

Spokesmen for both the Covington Police Department and the Newton County Sheriff's Office have said that if a complaint is received about illegal or dangerous fireworks activities, they will issue a one-time courtesy warning. After that, citations and confiscation of fireworks may result.

Newton County residents have the opportunity to enjoy fireworks safely by attending the celebration in Porterdale at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday as well as events in Social Circle and the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, where there will be a public display at dark. All venues also have plenty of activities going on earlier in the day prior to the fireworks events.

But Oxendine acknowledged with cities and counties cutting back because of the recession, there will be fewer public displays to attend this year.

"I hope Georgians aren't tempted to bring illegal fireworks into the state to stage their own displays," Oxendine said. "Besides being illegal, such activity can lead to serious injury."

Taylor said the No. 1 safety rule should be that no child is allowed to use a sparkler or other fireworks device alone.

"Always supervise your child," Taylor said. "Last year on the Fourth, there was a 2-year-old burned from using a sparkler alone. Her dad lit it and then went in the house. That's like a hot branding iron."

Oxendine echoed those sentiments.

"Fireworks should only be used with close adult supervision," Oxendine said. "Sparklers can burn at temperatures as high as 1,800 degrees, and must be used properly."

And, Taylor added, the old mother's warning, "You could poke your eye out," is especially true when children are using hot sparklers.

Floyd cautioned that no one, adult or child, should pick up a dud firework to investigate why it didn't detonate.

"If you light one of the fireworks and it does not ignite, make sure you don't go pick it up," he said. "It could malfunction and blow up in your hand."

But personal injury is not the only result of using fireworks in an unsafe manner.

"According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2008, fireworks caused an estimated 22,500 reported fires, including 1,400 structure fires, 500 vehicle fires, and 20,600 outside and other fires. These fires resulted in an estimated 40 civilian injuries and $42 million in direct property damage," Oxendine said. "On Independence Day in a typical year there are more fires reported than on any other day, and fireworks account for half of those fires."

Both Taylor and Floyd recommend the area where fireworks are being used should be hosed down prior to their use.

"Any area where fireworks are used should be clear of all combustible material," Floyd said. "And always have extinguishing appliances close by, like a garden hose and things of that nature."

Taylor said regardless of the rainfall that's been experienced locally, with the recent high temperatures foliage is dried out.

"The grass and tree tops are dry. It's not near enough rain to even get rid of the heat we have," she said. "People need to have a bucket of water to extinguish sparklers and firecrackers by wetting them down ... before putting them in a trash can."

She also cautioned not to put spent firecrackers back in the box with those that haven't been used or throw them next to a vehicle, saying both mishaps have occurred here and a fire has been the result.