By Ed Pierce
As July Fourth celebrations near, the chances of sustaining serious injuries from improper use of fireworks increase.
Pasco County Fire Inspector Amy Schultz said firefighters urge caution at all times when celebrating using any type of fireworks.
She said 271 fires were started around the state by fireworks on Independence Day in 2011, resulting in $743,000 in property damage and hundreds of minor burns and other injuries.
“We suggest using common sense at all times when setting off fireworks,” Schultz said. “Plan for the best, but prepare for the worst.”
The only fireworks legally approved for use in Florida are glow worms, sparklers, fountains and snakes.
Everything else that is propelled into the air — including bottle rockets — is illegal, according to Schultz.
But enforcing existing laws is difficult because loopholes in the state ordinance allow residents to purchase illegal fireworks by signing a waiver that they are using the explosives for agricultural purposes or to scare birds.
Schultz warned that the waiver may absolve the seller of responsibility in the event of a fire or accident, but it does not waive liability for anyone who purchases illegal fireworks and a mishap occurs.
“We would love everyone to visit one of the seven public fireworks displays in the area, but we know some citizens will have their own displays,” she said. “My advice, if that is the case, is to only light one at a time,” she said. “Have water or an extinguisher nearby. If something doesn’t explode, let it cool down first to make sure it won’t relight before handling it.”
Schultz also said children and pets should be kept clear of fireworks.
“Lots of people underestimate sparklers, which are entirely legal,” she said. “Sparklers burn at more than 1,200 degrees and can cause burns. Always have a bucket of water or sand on hand to put the hot sparklers in.”
Patrick Cook of Galaxy Fireworks said the local company, which has more than 70 tents and three stores in the greater Tampa area, is hoping last-minute customers push sales to levels above last year’s record figures.
Cook said about 66 percent of the company’s revenues are derived from Independence Day sales, with the rest coming from fireworks sold around New Year’s Eve.
“If the weather cooperates, indicators show we could do better this year than in the past,” Cook said.