With fireworks back, Md. firefighters hope to prevent illegal displays and injuries

After the touch of a sparkler to a cotton shirt, a mannequin sitting in a field at the James N. Robey Public Safety Training Center, in Marriottsville, Maryland, caught fire and burned away.

It was part of a demonstration on how setting off fireworks displays on your own can be deadly.

State Fire Marshal Brian Geraci said fireworks-related injuries jumped during the pandemic.

“We saw a very bad year last year, as we anticipated, due to the lack of public fireworks displays,” Geraci said.

He said 15 injuries and 30 fires were caused by fireworks last year in Maryland.

Maryland state fire officials held a demonstration to show how setting off fireworks displays on your own can be deadly. (WTOP/Valerie Bonk)

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 12 fireworks-related deaths and 10,000 treated injuries nationwide from June 21 to July 21 in 2019, with an estimated 7,300 emergency department-treated injuries.

In 2020, that number increased to 15,600 injuries and 18 deaths from fireworks.

Geraci said he’s hoping this year’s numbers get better as coronavirus precautions are being lifted and public displays are coming back.

“Displays are back,” Geraci said. “We are getting permits in droves at our office at the bomb squad. So there will be plenty of public fireworks displays throughout the state of Maryland this year for you to go to.”

Sparklers and ground-based sparkler devices are legal to buy, sell and use in most Maryland counties, but not in Prince George’s, Howard and Montgomery counties.

Fireworks such as Roman candles, bottle rockets or firecracker devices that explode or leave the ground are illegal across the state.

Geraci said because many fireworks are illegal, reported injuries in the state probably don’t reflect reality.

“A lot of people are not going to report those injuries … because obviously if they’re using illegal fireworks here in the state of Maryland, there’s a possibility of fines and other things,” Geraci said.

Possession and use of illegal fireworks in Maryland is subject to fines of up to $250 per item.

The sale of fireworks without a permit is also a violation of state law, with the fine up to $1,000.

“The safest way to enjoy fireworks this holiday season is to attend one of the many public fireworks displays,” Geraci said.

Dr. Ryan Zimmerman, of the Curtis National Hand Center at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital, in Baltimore, said a third of injuries last year involved hands, and they’re preventable.

“Do not point fireworks toward people and do not hold fireworks that were not meant to be held. If you are injured, cool the burned areas immediately,” Zimmerman said.

Maryland authorities show the burned hand of a mannequin during a demonstration on the dangers of setting off fireworks. (WTOP/Valerie Bonk)

Dr. Dean Fiergang, a pediatric ophthalmologist with Pediatric Eye Care of Maryland, said that most eye injuries come from bottle rockets.

“Bottle rockets fly radically, and they can easily rupture an eye,” Fiergang said. “Bottle rocket battling is a game usually played by young boys, where they aim bottle rockets at each other and shoot them.”

He added that most fireworks-related eye injuries happen to children.

He also said handheld sparklers can be just as dangerous as rockets and exploding fireworks.

“Certain fire sparklers can burn at temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees,” Fiergang said. “It’s really 10 times the temperature of boiling water, and hot enough to melt gold. No responsible adult would ever hand a lit match to a toddler.”

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Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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