Sunday, May 19, 2013
SCARBOROUGH - Matt Linscott of Biddeford was like a kid in a candy store Friday, poring over cartons labeled "War of 1812," "Vengeful Texan" and "Live Free or Die."
Manager Scott Mitchell explains how newer fireworks are better made and safer than older models as customers shop behind him at Atlas Fireworks Factory on Route 1 in Scarborough on Friday.
Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer
Communities with ordinances restricting when and where fireworks can be used:
Auburn, Bangor, Bath, Biddeford, Brunswick, Boothbay Harbor, Buxton, Cape Elizabeth, Caribou, Cumberland, Eliot, Falmouth, Farmingdale, Freeport, Frye Island, Gardiner, Hallowell, Hollis, Mount Desert, North Berwick, North Yarmouth, Old Orchard Beach, Orono, Owl's Head, Portland, Rockland, Sanford, Scarborough, South Portland, Unity, Wayne, Wells, Winthrop, Wiscasset, Woodstock, Yarmouth, York
• Keep fireworks away from children.
• Do not use fireworks when impaired by alcohol.
• Use fireworks on a hard, flat and level surface. If using them on grass or gravel, lay down a strong piece of plywood as a shooting surface.
• Use in a clear, open area, keep the audience a safe distance from the shooting site and be careful around dry grass, brush or any flammable items. Don't shoot in metal or glass containers.
• Never look into a tube to check on a device.
• Do not hold lit fireworks.
• Light fireworks with an extended butane lighting device or similar device and use a flashlight -- not a lantern or other flame -- to see the fuse.
• Have a fire extinguisher or water supply nearby.
• Avoid lighting in windy conditions. Light fireworks with prevailing wind blowing away from spectators.
• For reloadable fireworks, never use a wet or damaged shell or launch tube.
• Don't relight a fuse that fails to ignite the device.
• After lighting the fuse, move at least 20 feet from the launch tube.
Source: Phantom Fireworks
"I've never seen so many fireworks in one place," he said as he and his friends Jon Cross and Jaimee Austin tried to figure out what would give them, literally, the biggest bang for their buck among the offerings at Atlas Fireworks Factory on Route 1.
Atlas, along with Phantom Fireworks at the Gateway Shoppes Plaza, had a steady stream of customers with the approach of July 4th, the ultimate fireworks holiday.
Both stores opened this month, the first in southern Maine since the Legislature legalized fireworks last year for anyone who's 21 or older. This will be the first Independence Day since the 1940s when fireworks will be legal to sell and use in Maine.
While it's popular with many consumers, the new law has its critics, and already has created problems.
Police report a jump in fireworks complaints and reports of shots being fired, which they attribute to fireworks.
"We've had 12 complaints for the entire year. We had three the prior year," said Norway Police Chief Rob Frederico. "It certainly appears that the majority of the complaints are coming from the intown area, the more populated area."
In the past, he said, most fireworks were set off by summer residents at lakeside cottages. There were few complaints, and little police could do because the illegal displays invariably were over before police could pinpoint their source.
Some safety officials and health care workers will be anxious as the first big fireworks holiday arrives. More fires and injuries are reported on July 4 in the U.S. than on any other date, and half of the fires are caused by fireworks, according to state officials.
"Even when they were outlawed in the state, we always were concerned because we knew a certain amount always came into the state," said John Dean, a former state fire marshal. "Now, I'm afraid it's going to be more of a free-for-all."
Dean opposed efforts to allow sales and use of fireworks but, as a member of Gov. Paul LePage's administration, which favored lifting the ban, Dean was prohibited from testifying against the bill.
The law's passage, by itself, did not lead Dean to resign, but his decision was influenced by what he said was a campaign by the administration to roll back regulations that he felt were important.
"There's no question, in the states where the consumer fireworks are more readily available, there are more injuries and more fires," Dean said. "It's all about money. I might say it's blood money."
Dean said the law won't be changed until fireworks, which burn at more than 1,200 degrees, cause something drastic to happen or seriously injure the child or grandchild of someone with influence.
Mike Baumann, head of emergency medicine for Maine Medical Center in Portland, said emergency room workers are bracing for the types of finger and eye injuries that have happened on past July 4 holidays, but he doesn't know whether legal fireworks will lead to more problems.
"I think we see fireworks injuries whether they're legal or not," he said.
Scott Mitchell, the manager at Atlas Fireworks, said he pushes safety as much as anyone. "The only way fireworks are going to stay legal and everybody has fun is if everyone keeps safe," he said.
The industry insists that fireworks, used responsibly, are safe. It cites numbers from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission showing that fireworks injuries are down even though sales are up.
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