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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

On fireworks: ‘Reasonable’ is the key, NH official says

For several years leading up to 2011 – the year the New Hampshire Legislature lifted the ban on the sale of reloadable mortar-
type fireworks – state fire marshal Bill Degnan couldn’t find a single report in the files of an injury caused by the devices.

Since 2011, however, 18 people have been hurt by mortars – some seriously – an alarming statistic that Degnan and other public safety officials tie directly to the legislation that allowed fireworks sellers to legally stock the tubelike detonators on their shelves. ...

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For several years leading up to 2011 – the year the New Hampshire Legislature lifted the ban on the sale of reloadable mortar-
type fireworks – state fire marshal Bill Degnan couldn’t find a single report in the files of an injury caused by the devices.

Since 2011, however, 18 people have been hurt by mortars – some seriously – an alarming statistic that Degnan and other public safety officials tie directly to the legislation that allowed fireworks sellers to legally stock the tubelike detonators on their shelves.

Now, prompted by the second serious fireworks accident in two years in Pelham, Degnan is renewing efforts to bring attention to the danger of fireworks in hopes of putting mortars back on the list of banned explosives.

“What we need to do is bring back some sense of sanity,” Degnan said Tuesday. “We’ve lost that.”

Reloadable fireworks – large tubes into which the user inserts explosives that, when lit, shoot skyward and burst into different colors and patterns with a loud report – are the No. 1 cause of fireworks-related injuries in New Hampshire and invariably rank among the Top 3 in the nation, Degnan said.

“As soon as they became legal in 2011, people have been getting hurt,” he said, citing statewide records that show two people were hurt in 2011, which jumped to 13 in 2012, fell to one in 2013 and two so far this year.

The massive July 3, 2012, Pelham accident, in which thousands of dollars of fireworks went off prematurely, injuring 13 people and sparking a fire that damaged a Dodge Road home, accounted for most of that year’s spike in injuries.

The injured included three children, one of whom was in a coma for a time after the incident. The accident also spawned a lawsuit, pitting injured visitors against the homeowner and host.

The recent Pelham accident, which occurred around 7 p.m. July 4, took place at a home at 3 Indian Valley Road, a couple streets away from Dodge Road.

The 24-year-old man who suffered severe injuries to his left hand remains in a Boston hospital, Degnan said. Initial reports said a second person was hurt, but family members later told news outlets that the man was the only one hurt.

His name has not been released. Property records list the owner of 3 Indian Valley Road as Peter Bean. Degnan said the investigation is continuing.

Before the ban was lifted in 2011, Degnan said a committee made up of safety officials, legislators and representatives of the fireworks industry met regularly to review different types of fireworks and, ultimately, to vote on whether they should be legal or not.

“Even the industry people voted reasonably,” Degnan said. “We don’t seem to have much of that now,” he said of compromises that committee members reached.

The types that the committee most often voted to ban, or continue banning, are those they felt were the most unpredictable – a word that pretty much sums up reloadable mortars, Degnan said.

While seeing state legislators pass an outright ban on all kinds of fireworks might be a long-term goal worth working toward, Degnan said he is also a realist.

“I recognize that realistically, that’s not happening in New Hampshire,” he said. “What we really need to do, though, is get back to being reasonable.” A start, he added, would be re-banning reloadable mortars.

He also wants to educate the public, as well as lawmakers, about the costs associated “with every one of these injuries.

“The emergency responders, the hospital costs, the lost time at work – there’s a lot of cost that results,” he said. Not to mention the physical and emotional scarring that patients incur, sometimes for life.

As he and other officials begin approaching legislators, Degnan said he knows it’ll be a long road marked with resistance.

“The fireworks lobby will be out in force, I’m sure,” he said, adding that he’s not out to shut down fireworks retailers.

“Hey, I’m all in favor of businesses being allowed to sell things like fireworks, but we need to get back to reasonable,” Degnan said.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).