With Holiday Approaching, Fireworks Warning Issued

OCEAN CITY – With the Fourth of July celebration just around the corner, local fire officials this week reminded residents and visitors to the area of the dangers associated with private fireworks.

The Ocean City Fire Marshal’s Office this week took advantage of the occasion of the Fourth of July to reiterate its policies on fireworks from public safety and enforcement standpoints. Ocean City ordinances differ somewhat from state law and even what is allowed in Worcester County at-large.

For example, while certain ground-based fireworks such as cylindrical and cone fountains are legal in Maryland and in Worcester County, they are not legal to use or possess within the confines of Ocean City. All other explosive fireworks, designated as Class C fireworks, which are often sold in neighboring states, are not legal anywhere in Maryland including Ocean City and Worcester County.

However, certain hand-held fireworks such as sparklers, snap and pops, black cobra snakes and party poppers are allowed to be used and possessed in Ocean City and throughout the state. Essentially, the distinction appears to be anything that includes explosives is generally not allowed anywhere, while other somewhat harmless fireworks are permitted.

Ocean City Fire Marshal Sam Villani said this week his officers would be out all next week monitoring the sale and use of illegal fireworks in the resort.

“We generally keep a pretty close eye on it, especially as the Fourth approaches,” he said. “We’ll monitor the retail side to make sure the illegal stuff doesn’t make it onto the shelves, and we rely on the police department to monitor what’s going on out on the streets or on the beach.”

While there haven’t been too many serious injuries reported in the resort area in recent years, Villani reminded area residents and visitors to use common sense when handling fireworks, legal or otherwise.

“Generally, it seems like everybody knows what the rules are and fortunately, we haven’t seen a lot of bad injuries in recent years. There have been burns reported and other minor injuries, but we haven’t seen any instances where somebody is losing a finger or an eye.”

When asked about the best advice for handling and enjoying personal fireworks, Villani’s response was simple.

“My best advice to go out and enjoy the professional displays,” he said. “There are plenty of opportunities to view professional fireworks on the Fourth of July from one end of the town to the other.”

The Worcester County Fire Marshal’s Office is offering similar advice. Worcester’s fireworks law parallels state law with a few minor exceptions and is generally not as stringent as the laws on the books in Ocean City.

“The county allows ground-based fireworks that are legal in Maryland but are not legal over in Ocean City,” said Deputy Fire Marshal Matt Owens this week. “We know a lot of people will be having Fourth of July parties next week and private fireworks displays are part of that. We just urge everybody to use the legal fireworks and, by all means, handle them with care. We don’t want anybody to lose any fingers or toes.”

Owens said his agency will implement special enforcement details in the days leading up to the holiday weekend to ensure the illegal fireworks aren’t being purchased and used.

“We want to make sure everybody has a good time, but we will also be keeping a close eye out for the illegal stuff,” he said. “Most people are doing the right thing, but there are always some who don’t.”

In the county, ground-base sparkling devices that are non-aerial and non-explosive as approved by the Maryland State Fire Marshal are legal. They include hand-held sparklers, paper-wrapped snappers containing a miniscule amount of explosive composition and ash-producing pellets known as “snakes,” for example.

All other explosive fireworks are not allowed to be possessed in Worcester, nor are they allowed to be sold or distributed in the county. Maryland law prohibits the shipping or transportation of fireworks into the state and those found with illegal fireworks are subject to confiscation and even criminal charges. Fines for possessing illegal fireworks may be as much as $250, while those found selling or distributing illegal fireworks can be fined as much as $1,000.

While most use common sense when handling fireworks, statistics show there are many who haven’t learned the lesson about the dangers of the explosives. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), nearly 10,000 people across the country were treated for fireworks-related injuries last year. According to NFPA officials, the mishandling of fireworks caused an estimated 1,800 structure fires and 700 vehicle fires, costing an estimated $39 million in direct property damage.

For that reason, NFPA officials advise Fourth of July revelers to leave fireworks to professionals and stand at least 500 feet away from professional displays. The agency also advises people to leave any are where amateurs are using fireworks. Also, if citizens discovered unexploded fireworks, they are advised not to touch them but to direct authorities to them.