Boom, pop, fizz! For many Collier County residents, the sounds and lights of fireworks on Independence Day are as traditional as apple pie, hamburgers, hot dogs, and a picnic on the beach with family.
Yet choosing how to celebrate with fireworks can make a difference between a party or a tragedy. So local fire officials urge residents to use caution in lighting fireworks at home parties, and encourage everyone to attend professional fireworks displays presented throughout Southwest Florida.
“The only thing legal here are Class ‘C’ sparklers,” explained Rob Griffin, lieutenant fire inspector with the East Naples Fire Control and Rescue District. “Any firework that flies in the air, or goes ‘bang’ is illegal in the state of Florida. There are more than 5,000 types that are legal. They’re classified as sparklers.”
Griffin will be on hand to oversee the safety of the fireworks display at Sugden Regional Park this year, along with his fellow East Naples firefighters. Patriotic fireworks displays at the Naples Pier and on Marco Island also draw thousands of visitors each year — and it’s best to arrive early for ideal viewing spots on the beach.
But there are two loopholes in Florida statutes that allow sales of a variety of fireworks in stores here.
“The law states they can use fireworks to scare birds, or for clearing railroads,” Griffin said.
So at Phantom Fireworks and Sky King Fireworks in Fort Myers, there were many families searching for the right size and type to light the night sky on the Fourth of July. Every customer had to present a valid driver license, and signed waivers stating they were aware of the state regulations prior to purchasing their selections.
The Hendricks family of Fort Myers create their own special fireworks display each year, and have done so for the past 13 years.
“We like the mortars, and the aerial ones that go up really high. Sometimes we light them at our house, and sometimes we go to a friend’s house to light them,” said Mike Hendricks, while he shopped at Sky King Fireworks, with his wife April, and children. “We always have a bucket of water, and a hose nearby when we use them.”
“It really requires parental control when kids are around fireworks, because fireworks can cause burns,” warned Don Baer, deputy fire marshal with the North Naples Fire District.
Jerry Sanford, the public information officer with the North Naples Fire District, agrees with Baer in recommending parents exercise care in allowing children to play with fireworks. Sanford said local fire chiefs were also looking into passing an ordinance regarding fireworks usage due to dry weather conditions, but recent rains dampened the decision — at least for now.
Finally, eye injuries are another factor closely related to fireworks use each year. According to the Safe Kids Foundation, fireworks cause burns and serious eye injuries, and in 2009 alone, there were 3,300 children ages 0 to 14 who were injured by fireworks. About 70 percent of these injuries occurred in the weeks before and after the Fourth of July.
While preparing for a happy and safe Independence Day celebration, residents can learn more about fireworks and child safety at www.safekids.org.