As the Fourth of July holiday has arrived, many residents in the Kanawha Valley have probably already stocked up on bottle rockets, Roman candles, firecrackers and other types of consumer fireworks.
But, among the things that can ruin Independence Day celebrations are a trip to the emergency room and hefty fines for breaking city ordinances for improper use of fireworks.
As of June 1, 2016, West Virginians have been able to purchase and use consumer fireworks, but also in that year, both Charleston and South Charleston passed city ordinances that limit usage.
In Charleston, fireworks can only be used from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day and from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 for New Year’s Eve.
South Charleston has a similar ordinance where residents are allowed to use fireworks Between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day or “corresponding holiday weekends,” according to the city code. They may also be used from 10 a.m. on Dec. 31 to 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 1.
South Charleston Police Capt. Pat Rader said dealing with people violating the fireworks ordinance is mostly a game of “catch-up” for the department as it can be extremely difficult to find the people setting them off.
“You’re reacting to something that essentially boom, and it’s gone — no pun intended,” he said. “There are laws that protect people in their homes, and you can’t bust into somebody’s house for a misdemeanor like that.”
Rader said that unless someone is lighting fireworks in the officers’ presence, it can be difficult to give out fines for breaking the ordinance.
“Certainly we want everybody to be good neighbors, and we don’t want to mute anybody’s celebration for any holiday, especially one like Independence Day, so we try to do the best we can,” he said. “We follow up on every call we get, but it’s just unfortunate when we get there that there’s nobody holding the remnants of a Roman candle saying, ‘Hey, I just let this off. Can you go ahead and charge me with a $100 ticket for doing it?’”
Besides getting in trouble with law enforcement for breaking city ordinances, fireworks can be extremely dangerous.
According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, there have only been 121 fireworks-related deaths from 2003 to 2018, with five of those being in 2018. However, the number of injuries treated by emergency personnel was around 9,100 last year.
Mike Oakley, deputy director of Kanawha County Emergency Management, told the Gazette-Mail last year during a safety presentation that using festive explosives can cause serious consequences.
For example, firecrackers can tear through human fingers if the fuse is short and the user is not paying any attention to it, and seemingly harmless Fourth of July pyrotechnics, like sparklers, burn at about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
“If you ran into somebody or you hit them with it, it’s going to melt whatever clothing they have on and burn through it, and it most likely going to leave some kind of scar or deep burn,” Oakley said.
According to the West Virginia State Code, there are even provisions in place for using fireworks safely.
Fireworks maybe not be used on public or private property without the permission of the owner to do so and are also not to be used inside of or thrown from cars or buildings.
There are also other rules in place that prohibit the use of fireworks under the influence of alcohol and or drugs.
The American Pyrotechnics Association has a list of safety tips that include following the directions on labels of consumer fireworks, buying from a licensed seller, keeping a safe distance away, never picking up or reigniting those that don’t light and keeping a hose or bucket of water on hand.
“Emergency rooms are littered with the revelers who come in missing some fingers or [have] half their hand blown off because they think they’re smarter than the firecracker when in fact they’re not,” Rader said.
For Charleston-area residents who may want to forgo putting on their own show, the annual Fourth of July fireworks show at Haddad Riverfront Park will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Independence Day.