Local officials urge caution around fireworks — even legal ones

They may be fun, but they are also dangerous – and illegal. With the July 4 holiday just days away, police and fire officials say the number of firework-related injuries will begin to increase.

According to the Iowa Code, although it is legal to buy and own fireworks, it is illegal to detonate them. Sparklers or flitter sparklers in paper tubes not exceeding 1/8 inch in diameter, toy snakes that do not contain mercury or caps used in cap pistols do not count as fireworks.

“The main reason they are illegal is they cause accidental fires and injuries,” said Marshalltown Fire Chief Steve Edwards. “Even with a little kid using sparklers, they drop them in dry grass; they can start a fire Even the things that are legal need to be supervised by an adult.”

Edwards said seemingly innocuous items such as sparklers can be dangerous if not properly handled. Sparklers should be extinguished in a bucket of water or sand. Often, he said, children will drop the wire after they have finished playing with them, and other children will get burned when they step on the still-hot wire.

Fireworks cause far more injuries than fires, Edwards said.

According to the National Fire Prevention Association, hospitals treated approximately 9,600 firework-related injuries in 2011, the most recent data available. Sparklers caused nearly a quarter of those injuries.

Considering fireworks are illegal in Iowa, Edwards said he was surprised Marshalltown sees roughly the average number of injuries and fires caused by fireworks each year. The number of such cases in Marshalltown should be substantially lower than average.

Capt. Mike Hanken, with the Marshalltown Police Department, said if the police department gets complaints that someone is shooting off fireworks without the proper permit, or an officer witnesses someone setting off fireworks, police will ticket that person and confiscate the fireworks. A ticket for unlawfully detonating fireworks can land a person a fine ranging from $50 to $500 and up to 30 days in jail.

According to a press release issued by the Red Cross, parents should supervise children using fireworks, near water or in the sun. The Red Cross urges people to follow instructions posted on grills and fireworks.

Pat Thompson, Marshall County public health nurse, said sparklers reach temperatures nearing 1,200 degrees and can cause third-degree burns. More than 40 percent of burns that come into the emergency room are to the hands.

Thompson said those attending public fireworks displays should respect safety barriers. It would also be a good idea to wear shoes, she said.

Minors burns can be treated by running them under cool water and drying them with a clean, dry cloth before applying topical antiseptic burn spray, Thompson said. Once the burn is clean, she said to apply aloe vera lotion or other moisturizer and take an over-the-counter pain killer such as Tylenol. A doctor should treat burns larger than the palm of a hand. Using ice to cool a burn can further damage tissue and popping blisters can increase the chance of infection, she said.

Edwards said he is unsure why people feel they have the right to set off fireworks.

“They have the right to get a ticket and get fined because it’s illegal,” he said.

Contact David Alexander at 641-753 6611 or dalexander@timesrepublican.com