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5 Questions with a fire inspector about Fourth of July fireworks

What comes to mind when you think of FOURTH of July fireworks?

Schlepping lawn chairs and bug spray and coolers to the beach or the park to watch the beautiful bursts in the sky? Or sticking them in the ground in the back yard, lighting the fuses and running away as fast as you can? (Not a good idea, by the way.) • You might never think of the dangers involved but, thankfully, there are safety experts who do. • We asked this month's 5 Questions of Artie Taylor, Hillsborough County fire inspector, who has spent decades making sure everyone is safe during pyrotechnic events — including the granddaddy of them all, the Fourth of July. Patti Ewald, Times staff writer

1 What has been your most memorable Fourth of July fireworks show and why?

The show at Coachman Park in Clearwater in 2008. Bell's Fireworks put on a seminar in which they shot off the biggest, baddest fireworks during a daytime preshoot. I always knew about setbacks (the audience has to be 70 feet away for every inch of mortar diameter) but when I saw the debris fall during daylight hours, when you could really see it fall, I realized how important it is.

2 How much does a Fourth of July fireworks show cost and who pays for it?

The shows cost tens of thousands of dollars and are usually paid for with donations or by sponsors. Municipalities used to pay for them but they just don't have the money anymore.

3 You must have a lot of great stories. Please tell us one.

This one is about Christmas, not Fourth of July. About six years ago, the Idlewild (Baptist Church in Lutz) was doing an indoor Christmas show with pyrotechnics. The stage was set up with biblical caves the kids had made out of untreated fabric. A lot of stuff had to come down. I felt bad about making them do it and the kids were unhappy but later they all thanked me.

Fire codes are constantly being rewritten after historical fire deaths. A lot of codes for indoor pyrotechnics were changed after 100 people died at the Great White show in 2003 in Rhode Island.

That's what intrigues me about the job, it's always changing.

4 How have you seen fireworks change over the years?

There are more available. They are in abundance and there are more injuries. In the U.S. in 2010, according to the National Fire Prevention Association, eight people died, 8,600 went to the emergency room and there were 15,000 fires resulting in $36 million in property loss, all because of fireworks.

5 If you could tell people one thing about backyard fireworks, what would it be?

Save your money and go to public shoots. They are permitted and insured.

And, to see the big fireworks, you have to go to the big shows.

5 Questions with a fire inspector about Fourth of July fireworks 06/26/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 4:30am]
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