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Fireworks safety emphasized for holiday

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Fire department officials in Henry and Clayton counties are urging the public to adhere to state guidelines to ensure fireworks safety on Independence Day.

Battalion Chief Landry Merkison, of Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services, said his agency has responded in recent years to calls involving fireworks-related injuries.

"We see differing amounts every year, but we do see hand injuries [and] facial injuries," Merkison said. "Then, of course, we get grass fires and wood fires, and have had house fires that were started by fireworks."

He added that the public, sometimes, underestimates the risks in setting off their own fireworks, during their Fourth of July celebrations.

"I don't think people realize they're as dangerous as they are," Merkison said. "They can turn on you very quickly."

For holiday enthusiasts who wish to enjoy a fireworks display, the battalion chief advocated viewing a professional one in an open area, and not igniting them near their homes.

"While even the ones that are allowed can cause serious injury, the most dangerous ones are brought in from out of state," Merkison said. "You can buy some pretty large fireworks in South Carolina and Alabama, but they really have no business in a residential area."

Henry Fire Capt. Sabrina Puckett emphasized a need for area residents to leave the fireworks to professionals.

"We are encouraging citizens to attend a professional fireworks display to reduce the potential for a tragic and/or fatal accident," Puckett said.

In a news release issued June 22, Puckett said fireworks have been the leading cause, in recent years, of "injuries serious enough to require hospital emergency treatment."

"Severe burns, fractures, scarring, disfigurement, and even death have ended celebrations for many amateurs," she said. "Sparklers, most commonly found in the hands of children, can reach 1,800 degrees and have been the leading cause of fireworks-related injuries. Based on the amount of time and quantities in use, fireworks pose a higher risk of fire death than any other consumer product."

Puckett added that Independence Day fireworks typically account for more outdoor fires in the U.S., than all other causes combined.

"Clearly, fireworks are capable of devastating and fatal injuries, as well as substantial property loss," Puckett said. "Don't risk losing what's most important to you."

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) issued a statement Wednesday on fireworks-injury statistics across the country. According to the agency, fireworks caused an estimated 22,500 reported fires in 2008, and approximately $42 million in direct property damage.

"Every year, fire departments and emergency rooms across the country must respond to the devastating consequences of consumer fireworks," said NFPA President James M. Shannon, in the statement. "There is no safe way to use consumer fireworks."