With dry, hot conditions, consumer fireworks require special caution

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Ryan Broege
Saturday, June 30, 2012
— If it’s loud, explosive or mobile, you need a permit.

That’s the word on consumer fireworks.

Of course, skies above Rock County will be ablaze with them during Independence Day celebrations.

In Wisconsin, state law forbids the sale of the above-mentioned illicit fireworks to residents without permits. Permits list the approved times, dates and places of the planned launches.

Non-residents, however, don’t need permits. They can buy fireworks with the understanding they will use them legally.

Illinois has the same restrictions on fireworks as Wisconsin. Brad Lawver, general manager of Cornellier Fireworks in South Beloit, said he is not required to check for permits at the point of purchase. But he expects people to follow the law.

Lawver said his business has taken a hit from Beloit’s drought-driven ban of all consumer fireworks, including sparklers and novelty fireworks.

“I understand what they’re doing, but I wish we could’ve done it differently,” he said. “We could’ve seen if there were any other alternatives to a ban.”

Laws and dry weather notwithstanding, the skies of Rock County—and every other county on the state line—will be filled with “illegal” fireworks from the week before July Fourth to the week after.

“People are patriotic, and they want to get out there and celebrate,” Lawver said.

Safety is a primary concern for his business, Lawver said.

“The one thing I want to stress to people this year is to have a bucket of water on hand,” he said.

Each Cornellier customer leaves with his or her purchase, along with two flyers of safety guidelines inside a plastic bag that lists safety tips. Inevitably, however, people land in the emergency room from injuries caused by carelessness.

“I have a lot of experience with this, unfortunately,” said Dr. Robb Whinney, a trauma surgeon at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center.

Before coming to Janesville, Whinney was a surgeon in New York City, where he dealt with “hundreds” of fireworks-related injuries daily during Fourth of July celebrations and some from other holidays.

He recalled one incident where a Cinco de Mayo reveler held a lit firework too long and lost his hand and part of his face.

“He lived, but his life will never be the same,” Whinney said.

Whinney’s older brother suffered a serious injury when they were children. He was taking a closer look at a bottle rocket that had failed to launch. The rocket eventually ignited, and Whinney’s brother lost an eye.

The circumstances of that accident are common among fireworks-related injuries.

“People often think it (the firework) misfired or has something wrong, but often it’s that the fireworks do work, and people miscalculate.”

Lawver agrees that “duds” can be dangerous.

“If something doesn’t light, we tell people to just dispose of it,” he said. “We tell people to bring a firework back if it doesn’t work, and we’ll exchange it.”

Another common factor in fireworks-related injuries is alcohol. Dr. Tim Heilenbach, an emergency physician at St. Mary’s Janesville Hospital, said young adult males suffered most of the fireworks injuries he’s treated. Many of them were inebriated.

“Fireworks is one thing, but when you add alcohol to it, it really magnifies the dangers, which is true of so many things,” Heilenbach said.

Not even sparklers, forever relegated to the lowest rung on the hierarchy of consumer fireworks, are benign. Lawver said they can burn at temperatures up to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. They remain hot long after they are extinguished, posing a fire hazard.


These guidelines apply to members of the general public without a fireworks display permit

Legal: Stationary cones and fountains, sparklers not exceeding 36 inches, toy snakes, smoke bombs, caps, noise-makers, confetti poppers with less than ¼ grain of explosive mixture.

Illegal: Firecrackers, bottle rockets, roman candles, wheels and mortars (M-80s or “aerial salutes”) are prohibited in Wisconsin without a permit.

A common rule of thumb: If it explodes or leaves the ground, it’s illegal.

Novelty devices that spin or move on the ground are banned by city ordinance.

Forfeitures up to $1,000 are allowed under state law.

The municipal citation in Janesville for possessing illegal fireworks is $263.

Lawver recommends disposing of them in a bucket of water.


- Choose an open area away from people, homes and dry vegetation.

- It is strongly recommended to wet down the area with water prior to letting off the fireworks.

- After each firework burns out, soak it with water.

- When finished, place all used fireworks in a covered, fireproof container. Leave the container outside and away from homes and buildings.

Janesville has no plans to ban consumer fireworks: Chief

City authorities don’t plan on banning consumer fireworks in light of the dry conditions because the illegal fireworks are really what pose the problems, Fire Chief Jim Jensen said.

Janesville police plan to have extra patrol officers for the holiday week to handle the hundreds of fireworks complaints, Sgt. Brian Donohoue said.

“We really feel the problem is with the illegal fireworks, and it’s really pointless to ban fireworks that are already illegal,” Jensen said. “We’re asking people to please don’t use illegal fireworks, especially the type that fly into the air.”

People can’t control where those fireworks land, he said.

Authorities will issue citations to anyone caught using illegal fireworks without a valid permit, according to a city news release. The municipal citation for possessing illegal fireworks is $263.

Beloit Fire Chief Bradley Liggett announced Tuesday the city was immediately banning the use of all consumer fireworks because of the dry conditions.

Fire Chief Brent Connelly also announced a burning ban this week that includes all consumer fireworks.

“We just feel it’s for the best of the community,” he said.

The Rock County Sheriff’s Office did not plan to have extra patrols specifically for fireworks violations, Capt. Jude Maurer said.

Deputies, however, would be briefed on statutes as a refresher to what fireworks are legal and illegal, he said.

Last updated: 8:41 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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