Non-explosive fireworks return to Delaware shelves

Variety of fireworks on display at Redner’s Market north of Dover. They’re for sale by customers over 18-years-old. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

DOVER — On Monday afternoon, Tammy Steele of Dover scooped up an armful of sparklers for her kids from Redner’s Warehouse Market on U.S. 13. Little did she know, she had House Bill 53 — signed into law in mid-May — to thank for the privilege. According to the state fire marshal’s office, fireworks haven’t been sold commercially in the state for almost 65 years.

“I guess I never really noticed we couldn’t buy them here,” said Ms. Steele. “We’ve always gotten them for the kids around fourth of July, but that’s usually because someone will bring them to a barbecue or we get them when we visit my parents in Maryland. It’s nice that they’re here right up the road from me now.”

Incidentally, this was precisely the rationale used to pass HB 53. Bill sponsors Rep. Joseph Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley and Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, felt it was unnecessary to continue to criminalize many residents who were already harmlessly using non-explosive fireworks like sparklers or ground-based and hand-held pyrotechnics.

“People were already doing it anyway,” said Sen. Lawson. “Why shouldn’t some of the Delaware merchants get the benefit from the sales instead of them being bought right over the state lines in Pennsylvania or Maryland. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. These types of fireworks are the least dangerous of all of them. I don’t think getting arrested for lighting off some sparklers is warranted.”

Sen. Lawson noted that his colleges in the statehouse agreed and the bill experienced little resistance.

“It was well supported,” he said. “Despite people already using these types of fireworks, we haven’t seen any injuries. Also, there is a three year ‘look back’ in the bill so we can see if any issues arise from it. If it’s a problem, it can be shut down.”

However, the notable exception to the broad support for the bill came from the state fire marshal’s office. Assistant State Fire Marshal Michael Chionchio said the department feels that the freshly-minted law puts residents unnecessarily at risk.

“Sparklers and other items are dangerous to some of our most vulnerable populations such as children,” he said. “We believe that keeping them illegal and out of the hands of kids has helped us maintain a proven safety record here in Delaware.”

According to data from the fire marshal’s office, over the last three years there have been 19 recorded incidents of fire or damage caused by fireworks. However, no injuries were reported during the same time period.

“We didn’t have any reportable injuries in those three years, but that doesn’t mean someone didn’t get hurt and go directly to urgent care or their doctor — then we wouldn’t have known about it,” said Mr. Chionchio.

Though they’re not fans of the new legislation, Mr. Chionchio stresses that residents can always count of the fire marshal’s office to continue to proactively deal with safety threats and enforce the law as it’s written.

New law

According to the new law, ground-based and hand-held sparklers and certain other non explosive, non airborne novelty items regulated by the federal government can be sold and used in the state. The bill does not legalize firecrackers, bottle rockets, aerials or any other device that explodes or shoots into the air.

The fireworks can only be sold to people 18 or older and their use is strictly limited to July 4th and December 31st.

Sales are also limited. Vendors will only be able to sell fireworks 30 days prior to (and including) July 4th and December 31st.

More than forty states allow the sale and use of sparklers and other nonexplosive, non airborne novelty items that are regulated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Explosives

Although explosive and airborne-style fireworks will remain illegal in the state — for non-professional users — some will still find their way in. Nevertheless, Sen. Lawson doesn’t see legalization of these types of fireworks on the horizon.

“We know that people will still use them illegally in the state, but I don’t see pursuing legalization of them in our future,” he said.
“They are dangerous in my opinion. Though they’re controlled by national standards, people can still misuse them and I don’t think legalizing them would be wise.”

According to Delaware code, the fire marshal has the right to confiscate all fireworks or explosives illegally stored within the state.
A resident caught using illegal fireworks can face a fine of up to $100. Although that doesn’t seem too steep a penalty, Mr. Chionchio notes that the dangers and liabilities of explosive fireworks can ramp up quickly.

“Just using them can be a violation up to a misdemeanor,” he said. “But what people don’t realize is that there are other crimes that can occur as a result of misusing fireworks that weren’t intended. For instance, if you shoot a bottle rocket off and it goes on to your neighbor’s roof and burns their house down, by law that’s arson. That brings felony charges. If you shoot a bottle rocket off and it hits someone in the eye on accident, that’s assault. That’s also a felony. There are lots of possible consequences that not many people think about.”

Safety

Though Delawareans’ right to some types of fireworks has been restored, the fire marshal office’s prime safety recommendation is to not exercise it.

“The best advice I can give people is to continue leaving fireworks to the professionals,” said Mr. Chionchio. “We encourage everyone to go to one of the many firework displays that are held throughout the state on and around July 4. They’re put on by professionals, a lot of money goes into them and they’re fantastic.”

The National Fireworks Safety Council offers these safety tips to prevent sparkler or other pyrotechnic injuries:

• Light only one sparkler at a time

• Don’t hand a lighted sparkler to another person. Instead, hand over an unlit sparkler and then light it

• Try to stand six feet away from others while using sparklers

• Never throw a lit sparkler

• Remain standing while using sparklers, hold them at arm’s length, and never run while holding them

• Don’t hold a child in your arms while using sparklers

• Wear closed-toe shoes to prevent foot burns

• Drop spent sparklers in a bucket of water because they can remain hot long after the flame has gone out

When asked if he plans to pick up some sparklers this season, Sen. Lawson said: “Absolutely.”

“I have grandkids that will love them, so you bet,” he said.

For her part, Ms. Steele was unconcerned about her children using sparklers. She said her sons — six and nine-years-old — have enjoyed non explosive fireworks since they were toddlers without incident.

“We’re always careful anyways — honestly, we have way more dangerous things than a few sparklers in our garage and around our house,” she said. “In my opinion, it’s better to teach kids while they’re young to respect and understand stuff like this rather than just trying to keep it out of their hands.”

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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