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Bill would legalize fireworks in Florida

TALLAHASSEE — A bill that would legalize consumer fireworks in Florida is facing opposition from the state’s fire chiefs, though the head of their association said the fireworks lobby may have them outmatched.

“The best case scenario is that fireworks would not be allowed to be sold,” Jim Wile, executive director of the Florida Fire Chiefs’ Association, said Monday.

“Then reality sets in and you realize there’s a lot of money on the fireworks side to promote bills,” he added.

Wile says his staff is still reviewing the bill (HB 4005), filed last month for the 2014 legislative session by state Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican.

Gaetz did not respond to a request for an interview.

The bill would repeal the prohibition on selling fireworks to the general public and would remove requirements for testing and approval of sparklers and for those who make and sell sparklers to register with the state.

“Fireworks can result in severe burns, scars and disfigurement that can last a lifetime,” according to the Florida’s own Fireworks and Sparkler Enforcement Guide, published by the State Fire Marshal.

“Even sparklers, thought to be safe by many people, can reach temperatures above 1000 degrees and can burn users and bystanders,” the guide says.

If the bill moves through committee succesfully next session, Wile said he hopes Gaetz will agree to changes that put back in some safety regulations. “We’re at the mercy of the legislature,” Wile said. “But we want to make things safer for the community.”

Now, skyrockets, Roman candles and other explosive or projectile fireworks are against the law, though there’s an exemption for farms and fish hatcheries to use them to scare off birds.

In areas including Tampa, fireworks vendors have skirted the prohibition over the years by having customers sign waivers saying they are purchasing fireworks under the agricultural exemption. Under state law, enforcement is left to spot-checking by local police and fire agencies.

Bills filed this past session would have gone the other way and gotten rid of the exemption for farms and fish hatcheries. Those bills died in committee.

Florida is one of 40 states with exemptions or other loopholes that allow some consumer fireworks, including sparklers, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Five states allow only sparklers and other novelty firecrackers, and four states have an outright ban on all consumer fireworks.

Nancy Blogin, president of the National Council on Fireworks Safety, which represents the fireworks industry, is in favor of Gaetz’s bill.

She said her group was not involved in its drafting and, as a private nonprofit, can’t contribute to campaigns. A search of Gaetz’s campaign finance records turned up no contributions from identifiable fireworks-related concerns.

“People love fireworks,” Blogin said. “They’re part of our American heritage.”

And legalizing fireworks, she said, means more people will get educated on their proper use.

Across the country, fireworks were involved in an estimated 8,700 injuries treated in emergency rooms in 2012, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

The results were not broken down individually by state.

In one incident the commission reported, a 17-year-old in Arkansas youth was killed July 4 when he built a bomb with about 300 sparklers and electrical tape. The bomb exploded before he could get far enough away.

Federal law still bans the most dangerous fireworks, like reloadable mortar shells, cherry bombs, aerial bombs, M-80 salutes and firecrackers with more than two grains of powder.

In addition, all firecracker fuses must burn at least three seconds and no longer than nine seconds, Consumer Products Safety Commission records show.

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