Authorities say Ohio fireworks law needs reviewWritten by Associated Press | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The state’s fire marshal and some local authorities say a ban on certain fireworks should be reviewed as illegal use of bottle rockets and other fireworks shows no signs of waning and consumer fireworks sales have increased nationally.
Fire Marshal Larry Flowers isn’t advocating a specific solution, but he said he thinks Ohio officials need to reevaluate the law — partly because it is difficult to enforce. Making more fireworks legal might even be worth considering, he said.
“Sometimes when you open up things more, it gets more safety information out and could have a positive effect,” Flowers said. “We would have to see what kind of an impact that has had in other states, especially on fires and injuries.”
Ohioans can legally use novelty fireworks such as sparklers. They cannot, however, ignite Roman candles, bottle rockets or other so-called consumer fireworks. Licensed dealers in the state can sell those and other firecrackers to adults, but the buyers must sign a form saying they will take the items from Ohio within 48 hours.
Most first-time violations are first-degree misdemeanors punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.
The state doesn’t keep track of how many illegal fireworks are set off, but some authorities say they have seen an increase as communities drop or trim their professional fireworks displays because of budget woes. Fireworks retailers in the state say consumer sales are up, and consumer fireworks revenue nationally increased to $636 million last year, compared with $284 million in 1998, according to the Bethesda, Md.-based American Pyrotechnics Association.
Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly in southwest Ohio says he sees a boost in the illegal use of some fireworks. He said he favors stronger regulations to reduce injuries and damage.
“It’s a crazy law,” Kelly said. “The regulations now are basically meaningless, because we don’t have the manpower to follow people and make sure they are doing what they should.”
Ohio had 113 fireworks-related fires last year. Over the past three years, there have been at least 18 serious injuries, including severe burns and the loss of fingers and eyes.
The National Fire Protection Association reports that about 18,000 fires nationwide resulted from fireworks in 2009. And about 8,600 injuries last year involved fireworks, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Capt. Joe Wolf, of the Cincinnati Fire Department, said he believes it is worth reviewing Ohio’s law to see if changes could improve safety and education. The ban of consumer fireworks, he said, “definitely hasn’t worked.”
“It’s driven by the public, and people don’t want it enforced,” Wolf said. “They want fireworks. They just need to know how dangerous they are.”
The head of the American Pyrotechnics Association says when more products are legal, there’s a boost in the amount of safety information relayed to the public.
“People tend to be more careless when they know they are breaking the law and are trying to get away with something,” said Julie Heckman, the association’s executive director. “When it’s legal, people take the time to plan their activity and think about safety — so fires and injuries tend to go down.”
Heckman said more states have been relaxing consumer fireworks laws in the last few years as products improve and states look for ways to increase revenues.
Indiana legalized consumer fireworks in 2006, and a 5 percent public safety tax added to the products generates about $2 million annually to help with firefighter training, said Emily Norcross, a spokeswoman for Indiana’s state fire marshal’s office. The state also stresses safety, she said.