Columbus, OH (June 1, 2021) – Members of the Ohio Fireworks Safety Coalition warned legislators and the public about the dangers of passing Senate Bill 113 at a News Conference at noon today in the Ohio Statehouse Atrium. The bill would allow Ohioans to buy, possess and discharge powerful 1.4G fireworks, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Current Ohio law allows for the sale and use of trick and novelty fireworks (anything that goes snap, crackle or pop – including sparklers) that are widely available in grocery and department stores.
Passage of SB 113 would move Ohio from being among the four safest states when it comes to fireworks to being among the five most dangerous states. The Ohio House of Representatives passed HB 172, SB 113’s companion bill, on April 21 with a 73-24 vote.
“Advocates for child safety, fire prevention, law enforcement and public health are alarmed by how quickly this bill has moved through the General Assembly,” said Sherry Williams, President & CEO of the Ohio Affiliate of Prevent Blindness. “Since the bill’s introduction just a few months ago, hundreds of Ohioans have registered their opposition to legislators via email, letter, phone calls and witness testimony in the Senate and House of Representatives. In contrast, the only public supporters of this bill have been members of the fireworks and pyrotechnic industry,” she said.
According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, last year from March 2020-September 2020, 13,768 individuals were sent to the emergency room for treatment of firework-related injuries – a 56% increase over the same time period of the previous year. Injuries to children under the age of 15 accounted for 36 percent of the estimated firework-related injuries. Half of fireworks injuries are to innocent bystanders and over one third are to children.
“Despite industry warnings and public service announcements, many consumers believe that if something is legalized, it is inherently safe. This is the core of our concern with SB 113. We have seen injuries increase in other states once discharge has been legalized. Roughly half of all fireworks injuries are to innocent bystanders, not to the individual actually lighting the fireworks.
Many injuries are to children and fireworks often have a very negative effect on veterans with PTSD, animal owners, and individuals with developmental disabilities,” said Jon Wills, a concerned Columbus citizen and Retired Executive Director Emeritus of the Ohio Osteopathic Association.
“Many parents believe the myth that these products can be used safely or that smaller fireworks such as bottle rockets and sparklers are fun and safe,” explains Dr. Sarah Denny, a pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital who specializes in injury prevention. “However, bottle rockets cause almost 60% of fireworks-related eye injuries and are the most common cause of fireworks-related structure fires. Sparklers burn at greater than 10000F, which can result in an instant skin burn and can easily ignite clothing. Two-thirds of sparkler-related injuries occur in children younger than 5 years.”
Property damage due to consumer use of fireworks is considerable as well. According to the National Fire Protection Agency, on July 4, when consumer fireworks use is at its peak, fireworks are not only the leading cause of fires and associated civilian deaths and injuries, but also a leading cause of assorted direct property damage. Fireworks also cause over 17,000 fires nationwide each year and tens of millions of dollars in damage.
“I must express my voice of experience, on the danger that increased access to consumer fireworks and legalized discharge puts in the way of our first responders in law enforcement, emergency care and firefighting,” said retired Fire Lieutenant, Dave Belcher from Thornville. “It is the people on the front lines that put themselves in harm’s way when there are fires, injuries and disputes that are caused by consumer discharge of fireworks. For the first time in my long career in the fire service, I saw that fireworks were even being used as weapons against first responders in the violence that sprung up across the country last year.”
Eric Rathburn, of Columbus, knows too well the importance of avoiding backyard fireworks displays. He was injured by a firework misfire during a pre-July 4th party in 2009. Like many victims of fireworks injuries, Rathburn was an innocent bystander. The firework flew through the crowd, hitting his glasses and knocking him backwards to the ground. The force broke his glasses, cutting his right eye and causing permanent damage.
“My glasses had flown off of me as I hit the ground. It felt like someone had sucker punched me in the eye. After that I did not see anything,” said Rathburn. “I no longer watch any fireworks. I tell everyone I know that they should stay away from backyard fireworks and current Ohio laws are there to protect our safety.”
“For many of us, the question of whether to legalize these more powerful fireworks is a matter of quality of life,” said Nichole Coleman, U.S. Air Force Veteran from Findlay, Ohio. “The issue of fireworks and the unexpected noises and flashes that come with them are of real concern to me, personally, and many other veterans — particularly, the estimated 100,000 Ohio combat veterans — who have returned from military service with post-traumatic stress,” Coleman explained. “I rely on my service dog as a constant comfort by my side, and if my dog is startled or on edge because of fireworks, or God forbid if she runs off, that is unhealthy for me, too,” she continued.
“Over the last few years, the General Assembly has introduced, debated, and passed a number of bills focused on injury prevention and child safety. Each of these bills has been the subject of multiple committee hearings and discussion among stakeholders. None have been rushed to passage without full participation of all interested parties,” said Marc Molea, Advocacy Chair on the Board of Directors of Prevent Blindness.
“Fireworks will never be 100% safe, but there are policies that can be enacted to encourage safety, consumer education, and responsibility,” said Molea. “Given time, we can find middle ground on this issue and strike a balance between personal freedom and public safety. But if the legislature presses forward without a full debate, then the unintended consequences could be tragic, if not deadly,” he concluded.
The Ohio Fireworks Safety Coalition is composed of 50 statewide and regional organizations representing public health and safety organizations and businesses dedicated to educating the public about the dangers of backyard fireworks.