Officials stress safety on eve of dangerous holiday
Every year the warnings go out.
And every year, somebody blows off a finger, loses an eye or suffers some weird and terrible accident involving fireworks.
So let’s get that part of the story out of the way: Fireworks are dangerous, handle with care.
Now, on to something more useful.
Here’s a standard rule of thumb that also will help you keep your thumbs: If it explodes or leaves the ground, it’s illegal in Wisconsin.
“State law allows the sale, possession and use, without a permit, of sparklers not exceeding 36 inches in length, stationary cones and fountains, toy snakes, smoke bombs, caps, noisemakers, confetti poppers with less than quarter grain of explosive mixture, and novelty devices that spin or move on the ground,” according to a news release from the state Department of Justice.
Roman candles, snakes that fly into other people’s yards, M-80s are not legal. Also, anything that requires you to build a mortar in your backyard is definitely out of the question.
State statutes dictate which kinds of fireworks are legal, but local ordinances might be more restrictive.
“The ordinances are decided by each jurisdiction,” said Fontana Police Chief Steve Olson. “It’s really a patchwork of rules.”
For example, the village of Fontana prohibits the possession, sale or use of illegal fireworks.
In Linn Township, which borders the village, the sale and use of illegal fireworks are not allowed. But the ordinance does not specify that possessing such fireworks is illegal. People could buy them in another state or order them from the Internet and possesses them in Linn Township, but not use them there.
“You had better find out whether they’re legal to use, buy or possess in your area,” Olson said.
The Fourth of July is busy for police and firefighters.
Olson works a 15-hour day, keeping an eye on the big celebration and evening fireworks in Fontana’s park. Alcohol isn’t allowed in the park, making his life a little easier, he said.
“At the end of the evening, we’ve got 7,000 people who want to leave all at once,” Olson said.
Meanwhile, his phone is ringing off the hook.
“We get a lot of calls about fireworks going off,” Olson said. “We can’t always respond in a timely manner, we have to prioritize.”
Janesville police Sgt. Brian Vaughn said his department faces similar challenges during the holiday.
The department has to prioritize calls, and fireworks complaints “are pretty low priority,” Vaughn said.
Lake Geneva Police Chief Mike Reuss said fireworks “aren’t really a major problem.” In 2010, the department issued 13 citations.
Still, Town of Delavan Fire Chief Jerry Edwards urged people to exercise caution, even when they’re out on the water.
His department has responded to calls for fires on boats and on rooftops, all caused by fireworks gone astray.
In 2010, an estimated 8,600 people in the United States were treated at hospital emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries. Three people were killed.
Among those injured:
-- 73 percent occurred between June 18 and July 18.
-- 65 percent of victims were males.
-- 40 percent of victims were 15 or younger.
-- 900 were associated with firecrackers.
-- 1,200 were associated with sparklers.
-- 400 were associated with bottle rockets.
-- More than half were burns.
Among those killed:
-- A 22-year-old man fell off a cliff after detonating fireworks.
-- A 49-year-old man died after the fireworks he made illegally in his garage exploded.
-- A 55-year-old man died in a house explosion caused by “teenagers mischievous use of Roman candles.”
Fast fact: The tip of a sparkler burns at about 2,000 degrees, hot enough to melt some metals and cause third-degree burns.
-- Use fireworks in an open area away from people, homes and dry vegetation. Wet the area with a garden hose prior to setting off fireworks.
-- After each firework burns out, soak it with the hose or in a bucket of water.
-- Place all used firework in a covered, fireproof container and leave outside and away from buildings.
Sources: Rock County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Fire Administration, a division of the Federal Emergency Management Administration