Delaware officials say leave fireworks to professionals

By Craig Anderson
Posted 6/30/22

DOVER — What’s the best fireworks safety precaution as the Fourth of July nears?

What if someone is tempted to try shooting off fireworks themselves?

Delaware Assistant State Fire …

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Delaware officials say leave fireworks to professionals

Posted

DOVER — What’s the best fireworks safety precaution as the Fourth of July nears?

What if someone is tempted to try shooting off fireworks themselves?

Delaware Assistant State Fire Marshal Michael Chionchio says leave it all to the professionals instead.

That can be a hard sell, though, for some. While most people know what’s illegal, Mr. Chionchio said, the reality is that some will break the law anyway.

Every year around Independence Day, the state Fire Marshal’s Office ramps up the reminders.

“We tried to be more educational, more proactive (through social and traditional media) in explaining the dangers of fireworks and what they can do,” Mr. Chionchio said.

“Flat out, our position is just don’t use them at all. Go to a professional firework show. A lot of municipalities spend thousands and thousands of dollars to put these on.

“It’s just a safe way to enjoy the holiday with fireworks. And the professionals are licensed and the sites are permitted.”

As for advice on best practices, Dover Fire Marshal Jason Osika said, “Please follow Delaware Code and be responsible when using authorized items.

“Ensure that an adult is present. Do not discard any used items in a trash can.”

The Little Creek Fire Company takes a similar approach, trying to get ahead of any problems that could occur. While the company doesn’t take any particular standby approach to the Fourth beforehand, Fire Chief Scott Bundek said, “We just try to remind folks to be aware of their surroundings when discharging fireworks, having cookouts and barbecues, or using a fire pit.

“Also, people should pay attention to moisture conditions to decide whether it’s too dry to safely do anything.”

Though Mr. Bundek said there were some Fourth of July-related field fires years ago, there haven’t been any in recent memory.

In Dover, Mr. Osika said, “Recently, we have been fortunate and we have not had any serious injuries or incidents within the (city).”

In Delaware, by law, sparklers and smaller novelty items can only be used on four days — the Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, and on Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights occurring in October.

Firecrackers and bottle rockets are prohibited.

Items can only be purchased in the 30 days prior to the legal time. And that’s when the Fire Marshal’s Office starts getting calls, Mr. Chionchio said. The agency has 20 deputy fire marshals who enforce the laws.

“The issues, they start in June and continue throughout the month of July,” he said. “Fireworks can cause quite a problem not only with fires and injuries but with loud noises that affect people and pets in their home, disorderly conduct, things like that.”

While many offenses are deemed misdemeanors, “Higher charges occur when a fire happens because you’re setting off fireworks or you’ve injured somebody.

“You can actually be charged with arson charges and then assault charges.”

Until 2018, there weren’t any types of fireworks allowed in Delaware. The General Assembly, however, voted to legalize smaller items such as, among others, sparklers, glow worms, small smoke devices and trick noisemakers, including party poppers, snappers and drop pops.

Fire Marshal’s Office personnel testified in hearings before state lawmakers, lobbying for a continued full-scale ban, but to no avail.

Some Delawareans adapted to fit their needs and continue to do so via surrounding states where a more potent variety of fireworks are allowed.

“They’re not legal at all in Delaware,” Mr. Chionchio said. “And most people know that they’re not legal.

“They can’t buy them in Delaware. They can’t use them in Delaware. They bring them in from out of state or they receive them through the mail.”

While the Fire Marshal’s Office typically receives notice of issues from citizen complaints, seeing something on social media or a 911 call, Mr. Osika said, “Usually, Dover Police Department handles most of these calls.“

Rockets and firecrackers are the illegal fireworks most often used and any unlawful product, once confiscated, is turned over to the Delaware State Police Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit for proper discard, Mr. Osika said.