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Fireman's Association says leave the pyrotechnics to the professionals

Derek Key

Fireworks are a staple of Fourth of July celebrations. But one statewide organization is worried about sparks that will start flying in backyard pyrotechnics displays this weekend.

More fires are reported on July 4th than any other day of the year, according to the Fireman’s Association of New York State. And 60 percent of all fireworks injuries happen in the weeks immediately before and after the holiday.  

Fireworks are currently illegal in New York state.  But many are brought into New York from other states where they are legal, for backyard displays on the fourth.It’s these activities that concern the fireman’s association.

Gordon Kotars, a member of the association, and a volunteer firefighter in Taunton for three decades, knows firsthand how these homemade displays can be dangerous.

"I’ve tended to victims that have lacerations. There was one gentleman one year that couldn’t hear us, I don’t know how he made out permanently,” said Kotars. “I’ve had an eyesight injury, and I’ve also been at several fires in my career that have been a direct result of fireworks.”

Kotars says one of the biggest problems is that it is easy to buy pyrotechnics in nearby states where they are legal, but not necessarily well made.

"The fireworks that you can obtain in neighboring states and bring back across the border are lower grade, and don’t put out as good of a display. And they’re also more dangerous. They’re not made as safely as well. You can’t depend on the accuracy of the fuses and the explosive charges within.”

This warning about dangerous fireworks also includes sparklers. What worries Kotars about them is the fact that it’s mostly kids that play with the metal sticks that emit showers of sparks.

“A sparkler burns at 1600 degrees at the tip. And all it takes is one little touch,” said Kotars. “This kid is swirling this thing all around, and his little brother or whoever is standing next to him gets touched by it, and it’s an instant burn injury, and usually third degree burns.”

The association is opposed to legislation that passed the state Assembly and Senate that would legalize handheld sparklers and other kinds of novelty fireworks, as well as tighten up the state’s fireworks laws. The bill needs Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature to become law. He has vetoed similar legislation twice before.

So this holiday weekend, Kotars says leave the pyrotechnics to the professionals.

 “Go to the shows that you see advertised around town that are going to be at different venues. That’s the safest way.  And it’s also a better show."