Submitted by South Walton Fire District
New Year’s Eve is right around the corner, a time many Americans observe the start of a new year by sending bottle rockets into the sky, exploding miniature bombs and unfortunately, breaking a state law.
Most fireworks are illegal for consumer use in Florida, even if they’re available for purchase. That can make stocking up for celebrations confusing for residents, tourists and guests alike.
To help clear up some of that confusion, our South Walton Fire District has shared answers to some of their most frequently asked questions.
The short answer is not many. Fireworks generally approved for use by consumers include sparklers; small fireworks that emit colored smoke only; and “glow worms,” which burn in bright colors without exploding. The state fire marshal has a full list, including brand names.
If it explodes flies or lifts off, the law prohibits you from lighting it. That includes the popular Roman candles. Florida Statute 791 is explicit about these fireworks. Consumer purchase and use of these materials is unsafe, a threat and, most importantly, illegal in this state.
A loophole in the law allows consumers to buy them if they say they’re intending to use the fireworks for lawful purposes, including certain uses in agriculture and mining. In stores, this can be as simple as filling out a form.
Just ask. Sellers know the difference, and in many stores, consumer-approved items are clearly marked. Sparklers, party poppers and snappers are not banned under the law and can be used with care.
Florida law bans fireworks including “balloons which require fire underneath to propel them,” also known as sky lanterns.
“These lanterns will blow wherever the wind takes them and can cause fires if they land on combustible material like dry grass, sea oats or a house,” said Sammy Sanchez, South Walton’s fire marshal.
Florida law classifies it as a first-degree misdemeanor, which means those convicted could face up to a year in prison, a $1,000 fine and court costs.
Fire and public-safety officials say the law can be difficult to enforce. Typically by the time law enforcement arrives, whoever shot off the illegal fireworks is gone. This is even more difficult to determine when they are shot off the beach.
Shooting off the beach is still illegal and it causes a huge trash issue since most people do not clean up the debris that is left over.
Although Florida makes most fireworks illegal, some states go even further. Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York have banned consumer use of all fireworks.
According to a study conducted by the National Fire Protection Association in 2010, 8,600 fireworks-related injuries were treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms.
The annual death and injury report on fireworks also showed that about 40 percent of injuries occurred to children younger than 15.
There were also three deaths directly related to fireworks. In addition, the association says more fires are reported on July 4 in the U.S. than on any other day.
Here are five basic safety tips:
1. Always have an adult supervise fireworks activities. Parents don’t always realize that young children can be injured by sparklers, which burn at extremely high temperatures
2. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
3. Never try to relight or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully.
4. Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
5. After fireworks have burned, douse them with water before discarding them.
South Walton Fire Chief Rick Talbert said that even legal items burn at high temperatures and can lead to injury.
“Our encouragement to people is, don’t buy them and leave the shows to the pros,” Talbert said.