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Gallagher: Celebrate the Fourth of July Safely


TALLAHASSEE -- Floridians will be gathering this week in back yards and at the beaches to celebrate the Fourth of July. For many, fireworks are part of the fun, but Florida Treasurer and State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher warns fireworks should be left to professionals.

In Florida, only sparklers are legal for nonprofessionals to use. Every year, the Division of State Fire Marshal posts a list of more than 1,000 legal sparklers, and this year more than 218 new products were submitted for testing. More than 196 were approved for addition to the list.

"Where fireworks are concerned, it can take only a few seconds for a tragedy to occur," Gallagher said.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that in the year 2000 about 11,000 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries. Half of those reported injured were children 14 years and younger. The most common injuries were to the hands, face and eyes. Ten people were reported to have died from their injuries.

Gallagher said a key to safety is: If it launches or explodes, it is illegal. Illegal fireworks include shells and mortars, multiple tube devices, Roman candles, rockets and firecrackers. Also, Gallagher said, do not sign a "waiver" to buy fireworks. A waiver will not clear you of responsibility should you be caught using them.

Sparklers also carry a risk of injury. When lit, some sparklers can reach temperatures between 1,300 and 1,800 degrees, more than 200 degrees hotter than a butane lighter.

Here are some other safety tips to keep in mind:

· Use sparklers and other legal novelties on a flat, hard surface. Do not light them on grass.

· Use in an open area. Keep children and pets at least 30 feet from fireworks.

· Light only one item at a time.

· Never attempt to re-light a "dud."

· Do not use any items that are not wrapped or may have been tampered with.

· Have a fire extinguisher, hose or bucket of water handy for emergencies. Drop spent sparklers in the bucket of water.

· Do not leave a burning barbecue grill unattended.

· If it takes less than 30 seconds to hear thunder after seeing lightning, move indoors and stay there for at least 30 minutes.

To see the 2002 list of legal sparklers, visit the Department of Insurance web site at and follow the prompts for the Division of State Fire Marshal.