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Friday, July 11, 2014

When fireworks are a little too legal

Telegraph Editorial

New Hampshire’s libertarian streak has given us a state in which neither motorcycle helmets nor seat belts are mandated to be worn by adults.

The thinking behind such a hands-off viewpoint is something of a cross between “have at it,” and “it’s your hide” ...

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New Hampshire’s libertarian streak has given us a state in which neither motorcycle helmets nor seat belts are mandated to be worn by adults.

The thinking behind such a hands-off viewpoint is something of a cross between “have at it,” and “it’s your hide”

That rationale also explains why the state allows legal fireworks, though state fire marshal Bill Degnan believes they have gotten out of hand and, as reported in a story by Dean Shalhoup in Wednesday’s Telegraph, thinks it may be time to dial back the firepower a bit.

Degnan is enough of a realist to know that an outright ban on all fireworks would never pass muster in the state, so there will be no returning to the days when waving sparklers in the air represented the high end of the legal fireworks market.

However, Degnan blames a rise in fireworks-related injuries on the Legislature’s decision to legalize reloadable, mortar-type explosives that shoot shells out of a tube high into the air, where they explode.

Unless, of course, they go off on the ground prematurely, as they did in Pelham in 2012, setting off a massive explosion that injured 13 people – including three children – damaged a home, and led to lawsuits.

Pelham was the location of another accident caused by the reloadable explosives, this one last week, and the victim of that accident remains in a Boston hospital earlier this week.

Degnan believes the time has come to “bring back some sense of sanity,” and he wants the state to again ban the reusable mortar explosives. He cites statistics that show they are the leading cause of fireworks injury in New Hampshire and solidly in third place in that category nationally. The fire marshal said he can find no record of any such injuries in the state before the mortars were legalized, and 18 people have been hurt since.

The problem, he said, is that the mortar shells can be unpredictable, which all fireworks are to some degree. More than 11,000 people went to emergency rooms with fireworks-related injuries last year, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that children are frequent victims.

Degnan, the fire marshal, also points out that those injuries come at a price – from medical expenses and lost work to the psychological scarring that traumatic injury can bring.

His viewpoint is about what you’d expect from someone in his position, and it is a responsible stance to take. It’s also the right one.

In the case of high-end reloadable fireworks, the evidence suggests that the danger they pose eclipses whatever utilitarian value they may contribute to our society by helping us celebrate the Fourth of July in a louder, more colorful way. Besides, there are plenty of other items on the shelf that go bang, so we would hardly be observing a silent Fourth if the mortar ban were reinstated.

It seems only a matter of time before someone in the state is killed by a fireworks accident. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for that to happen. With sufficient evidence to warrant refreshing the ban on reloadable fireworks, we think more communities – and we have to believe Pelham would be a prime candidate – should follow the lead of those communities that have restricted what can be legally set off within their borders.

Some dangersous things , after all, are best left to professionals.