Fire chiefs urge fireworks caution

  • Fireworks explode July 4, 2017, over Michael E. Smith Middle School in South Hadley. “Folks should avail the opportunity and get out to enjoy the shows done by trained professionals,” said Amherst Fire Chief W. Tim Nelson. Gazette File Photo

For the Gazette
Published: 6/29/2018 11:58:22 PM

The use of illegal fireworks has caused 784 major fire and explosion incidents in Massachusetts over the past 10 years, according to the state Department of Fire Services. As the Fourth of July nears, local fire chiefs are urging the public to leave fireworks to the professionals.

“Some people think that fireworks are benign, but they really need to stay with professionals who know the proper way to handle them and know what the dangers are,” said Amherst Fire Chief W. Tim Nelson. “We all grew up with fireworks and we think they’re not that big of a deal. They just make noise and smoke and that kind of thing, but they can really cause great harm.”

The latest local evidence of that is a fire in April in a six-unit residential building on Main Street, Amherst which fire officials say was caused by fireworks which were ignited indoors. One man, who was sleeping and rescued by firefighters, was badly burned in the blaze which caused extensive damage to the building. Three men are facing charges in connection with the incident.

“He was a hair’s breadth away from dying,” Nelson said of the burn victim. “Through the great grace of God and our firefighters, he’s here today, alive and recuperating.”

On June 25 in Lynn, a fire started at a multi-family residence in Lynn when a firework was set off and hit the second floor porch. The fire spread to the third floor, ultimately displacing six families.

On July 3, 2016, an 8-year old boy of Lawrence received burns to his chest after watching a fireworks display put on by neighbors. The very next day, a 4-year old also from Lawrence received burns to his face after being hit by an illegal firework.

There have been instances where fires have started from children finding fireworks stored in their homes as well. Last July, a child from Nahant attempted to ignite fireworks, causing a fire that resulted in $1,000 worth of damage.

All fireworks, including Class C fireworks such as sparklers, party poppers and firecrackers are illegal in Massachusetts. “The tip of the sparklers where they burn can get up to well beyond 1000 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Northampton Fire Chief Duane Nichols. “They seem pretty harmless, but they can cause some serious injuries.”

Hadley Fire Chief Michael Spanknebel echoed Nichols by saying, “If you think about a youngster holding a sparkler, they look cute, but if they touch them in the wrong spot, they will get a serious burn.”

Forty-seven percent of fireworks-related burn injuries reported by hospitals to the Office of the State Fire Marshal in the past decade were to children under 18, according to a report by the state Department of Fire Services.

Overall, illegal fireworks have caused an estimated $1.9 million losses over the past decade, the report says. Most of the money lost is attributed to the firefighting resources needed.

Nelson notes that there is no need for people to set off their own fireworks since there are many opportunities to see firework shows in the area, like Amherst’s Fourth of July celebration at the UMass fields behind McGuirk Stadium.

“When used properly, fireworks are great,” he said. “We all love them. Folks should avail the opportunity and get out to enjoy the shows done by trained professionals.”

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