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Caution with fireworks can ensure safe holiday

Independence Day, a day of celebration, usually features picnics, barbecues, lawn games and, of course, fireworks.

Unsafe fireworks practices are responsible for many cases of property damage, injuries and deaths. In the United States, the National Fire Protection Association reports that 9,500 fireworks injuries were treated in hospital emergency rooms during 2001.

The association reports: "On a typical Fourth of July, fireworks cause more fires in the United States than all other causes combined." Because most injuries and fires occur on or near the Fourth of July, most people do not recognize the risk. The majority of the injuries could have been prevented by simple common sense.

Blindness, loss of fingers and loss of hearing are common injuries from fireworks. All fireworks may cause injuries to the eyes, face, hands, arms or other areas of the body.

Injuries to the body include serious disfigurement and loss of functions or senses. Deaths are less common than injuries; however, they are a serious possibility.

Basically, fireworks that explode or fly into the air are not approved for consumer use in Florida. Florida Statutes Chapter 791 establishes the regulations in reference to the manufacture, distribution and sale of fireworks.

The State Fire Marshal's Office tests and approves sparkler type fireworks for sale to Florida's consumers. The sparklers must meet specific guidelines and regulations to be accepted by the Florida Fire Marshal's Office.

A list of tested and approved sparklers is available from the State Fire Marshal's Office or the local Fire Prevention Office. Remember: If it is not on the list, it's not legal for the consumer.

Even though the listed fireworks are accepted by the State Fire Marshal's Office, they also could be dangerous. Using common sense can prevent a disastrous result. The following precautions could divert a catastrophe:

Buy the approved fireworks from a reliable and properly licensed retailer.

Never experiment or make your own fireworks.

Store fireworks in a cool and dry place.

Never carry fireworks in your pocket.

Read and follow the fireworks instructions. Very few recommend keeping the fireworks in the hand and igniting them.

Never throw fireworks toward or at any person.

Be cautious of fireworks around pets or animals. Usually, the sparks, flashes or noises that they produce frighten animals.

Never place fireworks in a metal or glass container.

Choose a safe area outdoors to display the sparklers. Use the sparklers on a flat surface away from flammable liquids or combustible materials. Stay away from buildings, dry grass, trees, etc.

Adults should ignite the devices for young children. A responsible adult should supervise all children. Encourage the children to exercise safe practices.

After igniting the fireworks, move a safe distance away.

Do not ignite more than one at a time.

Keep a bucket of water or water hose handy for emergencies.

Do not dress in baggy or loose-fitting clothing. Proper clothing will protect the body in case of an accidental or undesired discharge. Loose clothing may ignite easily. Eye protection is encouraged and recommended.

Do not approach sparklers that fail to discharge. Stay away.

Dispose of unused fireworks properly. Contact the local Hazardous Materials Office or the local fire department for information.

Do not attempt to reignite a devise that was ignited once.

After all of the sparklers are displayed and cool, pick up all debris and soak them in a bucket of water. Do not attempt to reignite. Check the area for any escaped sparks and possible fire or smoldering debris.

Some people consider fireworks to be an important addition to a Fourth of July celebration. However, respect how dangerous they may be if not handled properly and act accordingly. The above suggestions and simple common sense will help prevent a tragedy.

Editor's Note: This public service article on fireworks safety was written by Kenneth Clamer, coordinator at the Citrus County Department of Public Safety, Fire Prevention Section. For more information, call 527-5407.