Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Fire chief urges legal fireworks

By DENNIS HUSPENI and PERRY SWANSON THE GAZETTE Updated: July 7, 2005 at 12:00 am
It’s an Independence Day tradition as common as backyard barbecues: dire warnings on the dangers of fireworks. Mangled fingers. Eyesight and hearing lost.
Homes burned to the ground. Yet fireworks caused only a few minor injuries and almost no property damage this year in the Pikes Peak region, a Gazette survey of public safety agencies found. The Fountain Fire Department’s holiday weekend was typical. Firefighters responded to a single incident, a pine tree lit up by a spinning firecracker. Fountain Chief Darin Anstine thinks the dangers of pyrotechnics are overstated, and that fireworks are not the pervasive threat that annual education campaigns make them out to be. “I think they should be legalized,” he said. “The statistics are not there. They are absolutely not there.” No one disputes fireworks have a high potential for injury and damage. Nationally, fireworks caused eight deaths and sent 9,600 people to emergency rooms last year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. In El Paso County, a Palmer Lake man suffered serious burns as he worked the town’s professional fireworks show Monday night. Fireworks are illegal in most cities in El Paso and Teller counties. But the pops and columns of smoke throughout the area during the weekend are evidence people ignore the law. “For those people, it doesn’t matter what we say,” said Cathy Prudhomme, community education supervisor for the Colorado Springs Fire Department. “They don’t appreciate the message that it could hurt your pocketbook with a $500 fine or 90 days in jail.” Injuries from fireworks have declined 75 percent during the past decade while sales have increased, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association, a group that lobbies for the industry. “I guess maybe the public was a little more educated this year,” said Jennifer Richmeier, clinical manager for the Langstaff-Brown Urgent Care center in Woodland Park. Richmeier was surprised that not a single person came to the center seeking medical treatment after a fireworks mishap. At least one or two people typically seek treatment at the center for fireworks-related injuries each Fourth of July holiday, Richmeier said. A survey of fire departments, hospitals, ambulance companies and police departments serving residents of Teller and El Paso counties found: c Colorado Springs Fire Department officials reported 20 fireworks-related incidents during the three-day holiday weekend, resulting in $4,421 in damage. c Among more than 20 other fire departments, three reported responding to fireworks-related calls, all small grass fires. c American Medical Response, an ambulance company that serves Colorado Springs and most of El Paso County, had no fireworks-related calls. c Penrose Hospital said 10 to 12 people came to the emergency room for treatment of fireworks-related injuries, but none was admitted. Memorial Hospital officials didn’t count emergency-room visits, but they said no one with fireworks-related injuries was admitted. During the three-day weekend, Colorado Springs police arrested 75 people suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol. Anstine said those numbers show a need for a tighter focus on other crimes, like DUIs. He’s planning a discussion with the Fountain City Council about loosening the city’s fireworks ordinance. “Usually, our fireworks-related injuries and fires are very low,” Anstine said. “I have more alcohol-related traffic accidents than I do fireworks stuff.” Colorado Springs native Cindy Shankland said the laws make no sense: All fireworks are banned in the city, but some are legal in the county, where there is less access to water and more grass, brush and trees that can burn. “I think officials are overstating the case to reinforce a ‘trust us, we know what’s best for your family,’ law” Shankland wrote in an e-mail. Shankland refuses to light fireworks with her three sons — though they cajole her incessantly — because of the city’s ban. “I am more concerned about the legal ramifications than I am about the ‘risk,’ ” she wrote. “I draw the line at breaking the law to celebrate the same tradition with my kids that I enjoyed growing up.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0187 or pswanson@gazette.com; 636-0110 or dhuspeni@gazette.com
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