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Oxendine emphasizes sparkler safety for holiday

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

In anticipation of likely celebrations across Georgia for New Year's Eve, the state's top fire safety official is urging residents to be mindful of the dangers of fireworks.

Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John Oxendine has joined forces with the National Association of State Fire Marshals, to remind the public which devices are legal, and which ones are not. The commissioner's office issued a written statement Dec. 22, asking people to restrict their holiday gatherings to the use of certain kinds of sparklers.

"The sale and individual use of any type of firework, except certain kinds of sparklers, is illegal in Georgia," the release stated. "The penalties are a maximum fine of up to $1,000 and/or a sentence of up to one year in jail."

Oxendine said sparklers, which are legal in Georgia, should be used properly, and only when an adult is supervising the activity. "In 2006, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated approximately 9,200 people for fireworks-related injuries," he said in the statement. "Approximately one-third of these injuries occurred among children age 14 years [old] and younger."

Professional fireworks displays are permitted only if they are licensed through a probate court.

The release instricts children, who find unexploded fireworks, not to touch them, and to contact their local fire department immediately.

Glenn Allen is a spokesman for the commissioner's office. According to him, laws governing the use of fireworks in the state are not always followed to the letter. And that often poses a risk to the public.

"We're close to the Alabama line, and we see a lot of people traveling back and forth to buy sparklers as well as illegal products," he said. "Not only are they against the law, but the commissioner has concerns about their safety as well."

Allen said people who wish to see fireworks displays during the holiday, should "leave them to the professionals." For those who elect to use sparklers, several safety measures must be in place. For example, sparkler users should remain a safe distance away from others while setting off the devices, and they should also use safety glasses, along with "common sense."

"Always have a water hose or a bucket of water handy," said Allen. "Use sparklers only as they are intended. Don't try to alter or combine them, and don't re-light a 'dud' sparkler."