If you’re using fireworks, use the right kinds at the right times

Police, firefighters still say you’re safer watching professional shows

Posted 6/26/19

Those planning to enjoy fireworks over the Fourth of July holiday should keep state and local laws in mind, to ensure they stay safe and avoid getting fined or worse.

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If you’re using fireworks, use the right kinds at the right times

Police, firefighters still say you’re safer watching professional shows

Posted

Those planning to enjoy fireworks over the Fourth of July holiday should keep state and local laws in mind, to ensure they stay safe and avoid getting fined or worse.

“It has been predicted to be an extremely dry year, so it’s important to follow the laws to keep us safe,” Sgt. Troy Surber of the Port Townsend Police Department said.

East Jefferson Fire Rescue Chief James Walkowski agreed, noting that the Fourth of July again falls within wildfire season this year.

“Hotter and drier weather means an increased concern regarding wildfire,” Walkowski said. “Fireworks also bring increased risk for burns and related injuries.”

Capt. Ben Stamper of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office noted that the laws covering legal dates and times for discharges all apply to consumer fireworks.

“These are the snakes, sparklers and ‘Whistling Petes’ that one can purchase in the parking lots of local supermarkets,” Stamper said. “The historical problems and complaints we receive usually involve the types of fireworks that are not designated as consumer fireworks. These would include rockets, mortars and M-80s (in thre county).”

Although these fireworks are otherwise illegal, and cannot be discharged or possessed at any time, regardless of the holiday, Stamper acknowledged that these Washington state laws do not apply to Native American reservations, which are legally defined as sovereign nations where rockets, mortars, M-80s and other classes of fireworks are permitted.

“Within a few miles of Jefferson County’s borders to the east, west and south are the Suquamish, Jamestown and Skokomish Indian reservations,” Stamper said. “This is where you see the large fireworks stores and malls selling all types of fireworks, which legally become contraband once the purchaser leaves the reservation and transports them back to Jefferson County.”

Stamper promised the public the sheriff’s office would do its best to enforce the laws, while also allowing citizens to enjoy the holiday, but he pointed out that only rarely does the sheriff’s office have sufficient staffing to respond to every complaint.

“When we do contact someone in possession of illegal fireworks, we most often will seize and destroy the fireworks,” Stamper said. “But as you may note, possession of over one pound of illegal fireworks is actually a gross misdemeanor crime.”

Fireworks that are legal to purchase, possess and discharge on Native American reservations, but are illegal everywhere else in Washington state, are firecrackers, sky rockets, missiles and bottle rockets.

Firecrackers range between a quarter-inch to an inch and a half in length, while sky rockets and missiles have sticks or fins that they launch from, and bottle rockets are similar to firecrackers, except attached to foot-long sticks on which they launch into the air.

There’s an additional class of fireworks that are illegal both on and off the reservation, whose possession, manufacture or use constitutes a criminal offense.

M-80s, M-100s and similar devices have been illegal since the 1970s and can contain flash powder, black powder or other combinations of materials that can injure or kill, doing serious permanent damage to fingers, hands and eyes.

Improvised Explosive Devices such as pipe bombs consist of a tightly sealed section filled with explosive material, and uses the containment of the pipe to produce a relatively large explosion from a low amount of explosive material.

Likewise, IEDs such as tennis ball bombs consist of a tennis ball, with a fuse, filled with combustibles or pyrotechnic material to produce a loud explosion.

Altered fireworks include sparklers bound together by electrical or duct tape, to contain the ignition of the sparklers and created a loud explosive sound, complete with a flash of light.

In the past, both the Port Townsend Police and East Jefferson Fire Rescue have strongly encouraged local families to attend the Fourth of July fireworks display at Fort Worden, where the fireworks were set off by licensed professionals, although that show has been replaced by a laser show this year.

EJFR personnel have noted that the most common mistake laypersons make when using fireworks is literally handling them, by holding them in their hands.

As such, EJFR strongly recommends that, when discharging fireworks, they should be placed on the ground, and lit with a punk or long-handled lighter, after which the person lighting them should then quickly move back.

Another common mistake is when people pick up or attempt to re-light fireworks which have not ignited fully.

Bottom line, if you choose to legally discharge fireworks on your own, be sure to have an adult discharge them, and have water close at hand to extinguish malfunctioning fireworks.

EJFR advises people to call 911 in the event that a fire or injuries are caused by fireworks, or if they notice someone using or making illegal fireworks.

If, however, you notice fireworks being used in a location, or during a time of day, where they’re not permitted, you should call your police department’s non-emergency phone number instead.

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