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Fire chiefs urge caution with fireworks

Posted: July 1, 2014 4:08 p.m.
Updated: July 2, 2014 5:00 a.m.

July 4 is celebrated in many ways, with cookouts, patriotic concerts and parades. But one fun thing about the holiday that carries the potential for danger is fireworks. Kershaw County fire chiefs want everyone to have fun on the 4th, but to also use caution and common sense when dealing with fireworks.

It is illegal to sell or use fireworks within Camden’s city limits, but they are available in other areas of the county, including Lugoff. Lugoff Fire-Rescue (LF-R) Chief Dennis Ray said his agency provides flyers with safety advice to fireworks stands to hand out to their customers.

“Each one of these bullet points are things we push year round. Fourth of July and New Years is our two biggest fireworks times. Our biggest fear, No. 1, is hazards to the body for people not using fireworks properly, not taking safety precautions,” Ray said. “The second danger we face with them is fires. The weather affects that. If we get a good rain the day before, the risk significantly drops.”

Ray said a tropical storm approaching the Southeast U.S. coast this week may bring beneficial rain to Kershaw County that will reduce the fire potential. He said the safest and cheapest way to enjoy fireworks is to attend a professional show like those at Lake Wateree or Fort Jackson.

“Find a public display. The safety precautions are there. The permits are there. You have the fire department inspecting that display. The insurance is there, so you’ve got as many safety factors as you can have covering it,” Ray said. “If someone chooses to have their own fireworks display, if they follow the simple safety precautions they stand a very good chance of enjoying their fireworks and not be sitting at urgent care of the emergency room. That will really mess your Fourth of July up.”

Of the 17 safety tips on Ray’s list, he said one of the most important is to not pick up a firework item that didn’t go off and you think is a “dud.”

“Let it lay there at least 20 minutes. Enjoy the rest of your show, shoot the rest of your fireworks. Then, before you’re done, have a bucket of water and take that dud firework and make sure it’s completely submerged,” Ray said. “It’s like a camp fire. Douse it completely when you’re done and then you’re sure it won’t go off.”

Ray also said people should not make their own fireworks or combine items to make a bigger bang.

“It seems like every year in South Carolina, I hear about somebody getting hurt because they made their own fireworks or tied two or three together. When you do that you’ve thrown away the safety factors that are built into that firework by the manufacturer,” he said. “Just don’t do it.”

Camden Fire Chief John Bowers also urged everyone to attend public fireworks shows, adding that if you choose to shoot your own fireworks, simply be careful.

“You want to make sure all fireworks are discharged with adult supervision. You want to make sure you’ve got a source of water close by, either a bucket or a hose. You want to make sure you only use fireworks that are listed for consumer use, Class C fireworks. You should never put your body over fireworks, you should always light them from the side and get away. Make sure you’re in a clean, cleared area,” Bowers said. “You should never try to reignite one if it didn’t go off. Don’t approach it until much later.”

Bowers said extra care should be taken in how and where you carry and shoot fireworks.

“You should never carry fireworks in your pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers because of fragmentation,” he said. “I love fireworks, but they’re dangerous. They need to be treated with the utmost respect. There’s responsibility that comes with it. By and large people use them and don’t have any problems, but when you have that volume of people that are doing the same activity, something is going to happen.”

Bowers provided nationwide figures that showed 17,811 fires caused by fireworks in 2011, including 1,200 structures, 400 vehicles and 16,300 grass or brush fires. He said the fires resulted in 40 civilian injuries and $42 million in property damage.

Ray said the LF-R traditionally sees more activity on and around July 4 and they will be at the ready this year, but he would rather everyone be careful and have a safe holiday.

“You don’t want five fire trucks pulling up in your yard or your neighbor’s yard on the Fourth of July because you’ve got a fire out of control,” he said. “That will really mess your holiday up to have a yard full of fire trucks.”

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