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Minn. fire officials urge safe handling of fireworks

Jordan Pierce of Kandiyohi, left, helps Adam Blieger of Willmar buy fireworks Tuesday afternoon at the Youth for Christ TNT Firework tent in the Walmart parking lot. Caryn van Dijk, program director for Joppa, a young-adult ministry through Youth for Christ, said she has sold fireworks in the Cub Foods parking lot for the last four years while different church organizations have staffed a tent that has moved between the Menards and Walmart parking lots."It's a good fundraiser," van Dijk said. "We get to ...

WILLMAR -- It's just days until the nation celebrates its independence. The fireworks stands have been open, and reports already are filing in about improper or illegal use of fireworks.

According to the state Department of Public Safety, injuries suffered from fireworks in Minnesota have declined from 111 in 2004 to 57 in 2009. Accordingly, property damage by fireworks has decreased from about $4,000 to $1,500 and State Fire Marshal Jerry Rosendahl has a goal to get those numbers to zero.

Citizens should "keep in mind that if it flies or explodes, it's illegal in this state," Rosendahl said in a statement sent out by the Department of Public Safety.

Fireworks that are legal in Minnesota include: sparklers, snakes, glow worms, string poppers and other non-aerial, non-explosive devices. Fireworks may not be used on public property and cannot be purchased by those under 18 years of age.

"The law is clear," Rosendahl said. "It doesn't change because you're shooting these things over the lake, or because the neighbors don't mind or the grass is wet. To be truly responsible adults, we must think about what we're teaching our children when we cherry-pick the laws we're going to obey."

Rosendahl also stressed that legal fireworks should be used carefully, with respect for their potential to cause injury.

American Medical Response Inc., which provides medical transportation, reported in a news release that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates 8,600 fireworks-related injuries took place in 2010. An estimated 30 percent of those were injuries to the hands and fingers and nearly 21 percent of the injuries were to the eyes.

Similarly, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported approximately 40 percent of fireworks injuries occurred in children younger than 15 years of age.

In addition, the commission received reports of three fatalities related to fireworks in 2010.

While lighting and watching fireworks can be dangerous, the American Association of Poison Control Centers is also warning parents to keep children from ingesting any fireworks.

A news release said poison centers received more than 1,000 calls about exposures to fireworks in 2009 -- 750 of the calls involved children younger than 6.

"Everyone wants to see injury numbers continue to drop," Rosendahl said. "Our paramedics, firefighters and hospitals don't need the work."

Willmar Fire Chief Marvin Calvin reiterated Rosendahl's safety concerns and said that nationwide, an estimated 18,000 fires were started by fireworks in 2009.

"Everyone just has to use them safely, and if a fire does start, make sure you have a way to put it out," Calvin said. "If it doesn't go off, do not pick it up."

- Light one item at a time, and never inside an enclosed container.

- Never shoot devices over roofs, over other structures or near power lines.

- Never attempt to relight or fix fireworks that have not ignited.

- Always keep a safe distance from fireworks staging areas.

- Avoid areas with dry brush, grass or debris; flying sparks easily ignite them.

- In case of burn injuries, cover with a dry dressing and if necessary take the victim to a local emergency room or call 9-1-1 for help.

- Keep water and a first aid kit nearby for emergencies.

- Keep younger children away from all fireworks. Older children must be supervised.

- Never use homemade fireworks.