Tulare County ignites discussion on firework safety

Tulare County Fire Chief Charlie Norman going over firework safety during a Board of Supervisors meeting on June 25.(Karis Caddell)

Fire Chief Charlie Norman emphasizes dangers of illegal fireworks at Board of Supervisors meeting, outlines strategies to prevent fires and injuries this Fourth of July

TULARE COUNTY – In preparation for this year’s Fourth of July celebrations, Fire Chief Charlie Norman sparked some attention on firework safety at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting.

On June 25, Norman started his presentation by breaking down which fireworks are illegal including those that launch into the air or that explode, and which are Safe and Sane Fireworks, which are authorized for use.

“If it does not have the safe and sane fire marshal seal, it is illegal,” Norman said. “Anything that is modified is illegal.”

He noted that there are 31 open booths selling fireworks in Tulare County this year. Some of the most common illegal fireworks are known as mortars, roman candles, firecrackers, cakes or rockets, which pose risks to public safety. Norman noted it is typical for fire departments to receive anywhere from 80 to 100 calls on the fourth of July, mostly related to illegal fireworks, nuisance fires and grass fires.

To combat the increased fire incidents on Independence Day, Norman said the fire department has split their response crew into two groups on either side of the county to make sure they are ready to respond to emergencies.

One of the other things the fire department is doing to prevent fires this year is clearing out as much vegetation on the side of the roads as they can. Norman explained that many people take illegal fireworks away from the cities and into rural areas to shoot off illegal fireworks into the road.

“(We have seen a) trend of people getting in a car, going out to the middle of the country (side), putting up a roman candle or launcher and launching these things in the middle of the road. … We’ve seen it in just about all areas of the county,” Norman said.

By decreasing the amount of vegetation by the road, the fire department is hoping to decrease the amount of material that can catch fire in more rural areas. Norman also noted that fires are not the only risk that comes with firework usage. With Independence Day celebration comes increased fireworks injuries.

“Hands and fingers are number one (fireworks injury) – about 28%. (They happen when) you’re holding the device in your hand and it explodes,” Norman said.

One of the other ways that people can prioritize fire safety this July is by using legal fireworks responsibly, Norman said. Residents can prevent injury this year by limiting alcohol consumption while using fireworks, making sure all firework usage has appropriate adult supervision and using legal fireworks only in areas where they are permitted.

Many towns in the area are also holding their own fireworks shows. Norman said that Exeter, Tulare and Woodlake all have shows scheduled for July, while Visalia has a show on July 4. The Board of Supervisors also noted that Dinuba has their show scheduled for July 3.

However, those who don’t want to take the risk of using fireworks can celebrate Independence Day in other ways. Norman said residents can use glow sticks, use red white and blue silly string or set up an outdoor movie night with a projector.

Both Supervisors Eddie Valero and Amy Shuklian brought up the topic of other alternatives to fireworks shows at the meeting. Shuklian noted that they are beneficial for veterans suffering with PTSD in the county as well as pets who might be stressed by the sound of fireworks.

Valero asked the fire chief if he saw a future where residents lean more toward the usage of other alternatives.

“I think it’s an opportunity. I see them happening…I don’t see us getting away from safe and sane fireworks. It’s a great trend,” Norman said.

He continued to say that he would like to see more alternatives rise in popularity because of the benefits and being a pet owner himself.

“And I know drone shows are great and low stakes are great, but everybody loves a sparkler,” Norman said.

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