Balancing celebration with safety

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And so it begins.

On Thursday, a retail fireworks shop will open in Manchester, the first to be licensed under a recently passed law to permit the use and sale of fireworks in Maine.

We’re still about four months from the Fourth of July, the date most typically associated with fireworks, but it’s not too early to think about what we should expect when — for the first time in decades — Mainers can celebrate Independence Day with the blast, blaze and color of fireworks ignited in their own backyards.

We can hope that all celebrations will be safe, but the fact is that fireworks are dangerous and thousands of people are injured by fireworks every year. The best we can do is be aware of the danger and be responsible consumers.

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According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 60 percent of all fireworks injuries happen on or around July 4, with children 14 years and younger sustaining about 45 percent of all injuries. The highest rate of fireworks injuries is among 15- to 21-year-old men and boys.

Many of the injuries suffered by children are attributed to sparklers that can cause blisters and ignite clothes, but most of the remaining injuries — severe burns, lost hands and blindness — are from firecrackers, rockets and illegal M-80s.

It’s worth noting that while the sale of fireworks is legal under state law, the law permits towns to enact ordinances banning use. So, before making a purchase or lighting a fuse, make sure the use of fireworks is legal in your community.

Since Maine hasn’t permitted the sale and use of fireworks in so long, we don’t have current statistics charting the potential danger, but there are hard numbers in Washington state, where consumer fireworks have been sold for years.

In 2010, according to the Washington State Patrol, “there were 575 fireworks-related emergency incidents … resulting in $2.1 million in property loss.”

If we account for the difference in population to estimate what we can expect in Maine, we’re looking at the potential of 110 fireworks-related emergency incidents and $403,000 in property damage this year.

There’s no way to predict how much damage fireworks will cause in Maine, but based on national statistics, we can hazard a fair guess that consumers will not escape fireworks use without injury.

Fortunately, the shop opening in Manchester is owned by Steve Marson, who owns Central Maine Pyrotechnics in Hallowell and who has worked with fireworks for about 40 years. A veteran of public and private fireworks displays, he hopes to open three more shops in Maine before July 4.

Marson was quoted in Tuesday’s Kennebec Journal thanking the Legislature for opening the consumer market to fireworks, “but as fast as they allowed it to be reality, it can go away just as fast.”

He’s right, and it’s reassuring to see that he promised Mainers that “we’ll be a very professionally run business.”

Since he’s the only pyrotechnics retailer in the state, consumers and public officials will be watching and holding him true to his word.

But, fireworks safety is not Marson’s responsibility. It’s the responsibility of everyone who buys them and uses them; even if people are supremely careful, accidents are going to happen.

The Washington State Patrol has some good advice, based on painful experience: Don’t overestimate a child’s ability to use good judgment; only adults should light fireworks; be sure fireworks, matches and lighters are secure and out of sight of naturally curious children; and use all purchased fireworks so they’re not on a shelf tempting the curious — children or otherwise.

The law allowing fireworks in Maine was passed on the strength of job creation. We must all work to ensure that the economic benefit outweighs the risk — and reality — of personal injury and property damage.

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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