Fire, police, public health officials band together to oppose legalization of fireworks

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

Springfield, IL – Fire service, law enforcement and public health officials along with legislators and burn survivors gathered at the State Capitol today to kick-off Burn Awareness Week and educate the best public policy to prevent burn injuries

There has been talk about the introduction of legislation this session to allow for the retail sale of fireworks in Illinois. However, the groups stood in strong opposition to such policy change and cited evidence to show it would just lead to more injuries and potential deaths and that any additional revenue would be offset by increased costs for first responders, Medicaid payments for injuries, as well property damage.  

Chief Steve Ivonelli, President of the Illinois Fire Services Association, pointed out the following:

 ·         In this heightened state of homeland security, it is imperative to limit access to explosives to pyrotechnic professionals. Both the Boston Marathon and Time Square bombers purchased fireworks to be used in their attacks at the exact same New Hampshire fireworks retail store.

 ·         States such as Missouri, which have legalized Class C fireworks, have seen a 400 percent increase in injuries.

·         According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) there has been a significant 30 percent spike in fireworks injuries between 2013 and 2012 (11,400 injuries annually) as well as 8 deaths in 2013.

·         Sadly 40 percent of injuries occurring to children under the age of 14 and children under the age of 5 have the highest per capita injury rate, many of whom will have to endure the rest of their lives with scars (50% of injures under 19).

·         In recent testing by the CPSC & US Customs Border Protection staff, over 30 percent of imported fireworks were noncompliant with federal regulations. Violations most often involved overloaded report composition and failure to meet fuse burn-time requirements.

David Schury, a burn survivor himself, who has spent more than a decade volunteering at Camp “I am Me” and Loyola’s Medical Center’s Burn Unit, talked about his experience with young burn victims. “I don’t think people realize it is not only the excruciating physical pain the victims of a burn injury have to endure, but for the rest of their lives, the academic, emotional, social, challenges that they will face on ongoing basis compounded by the fact that the majority of firework injuries happen to children under the age of 15, who don’t have the maturity or coping skills of an adult.”

Schury also founded from Tragedy to Triumph, a foundation which provides academic scholarships to Illinois burn survivors. Several recipients have even gone on to become nurses in burn units. 

“Through effective public policy, which leaves fireworks in the hands of the trained professionals and not for retail sale, we can reduce related injuries and possible deaths, all of which are preventable,” said Tom Hughes, Executive Director of the Illinois Public Health Association, which represents over 7000 individuals who work in a variety of health disciplines.

"No one enjoys fireworks more than me, and I always attend fireworks displays in my community for the sense of pride they instill in our community and country.  I have worked with the fire service for many years and they are always trying to prevent accidents and injuries from happening and have made progress toward that goal.  I am concerned that the general legalization of fireworks will lead to an increase in serious injuries and even possible deaths, which are totally preventable under current policy.  All preventable injuries are tragic, but it is especially tragic when those injuries occur to children who are unaware of the dangers of fireworks.  Not only do these cause very unfortunate permanent injuries in general use, it is an added cost for emergency responders and health care providers.  Let's keep our patriotic celebrations loud and proud and colorful, but safe by continuing to have trained professionals handle our fireworks,” said State Representative Don Moffitt (R-Gilson) who also Co-Chairs the House Fire Caucus.

“Fireworks are beautiful to look at, but the important part of their name to recognize is ‘fire’.  They can, and do, cause the same burn injuries as every other source of heat.  We tell our children not to play with matches, why hand them a sparkler?   Our burn patients have to suffer physical and emotional scars for the rest of their lives, all avoidable and preventable.   That does not even begin to account for the number of fireworks causing loss of fingers, hand function or sight.  Leave the fireworks to professionals and enjoy the displays in safety.” said Art Sanford, Associate Professor of Surgery at Loyola University Medical Center.

Rep. Carol Sente stated, “As Co-Chair of the House Fire Caucus, I have grave concerns about any leniency in allowing fireworks to be purchased in Illinois at the retail level. After spending 7 years as a counselor at Camp “I Am Me”, for burn survivors, and seeing the results of children who have been injured and permanently scarred after playing with fireworks, I stand strongly against any attempt to legalize such fireworks. Illinois has come too far in preventing fires and fire-related injuries to take a step backwards and result in increased injuries for our youth.”

"I think fireworks displays need to remain in the hands of the professionals. There are too many tragedies that result from someone being burned, maimed or killed by fireworks. There is nothing worse than having a day of celebration and fun ending with a visit to the emergency room,” said State Representative Kathleen Willis (D-Addison).

Law enforcement officials also expressed their concerns. “The police chiefs agree that expanding the sale of fireworks would result in more injuries, which runs counter to our commitment to work for safer communities,” explained Ed Wojciki, Executive Director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.  “In addition to accidental injuries, law enforcement has already seen explosives used to harm or threaten others and would not support anything which would makes access to them easier.”

Scalds are the second most common type of burn injury and also highly preventable. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, approximately 3,800 injuries and 34 deaths occur in the home due to scalding from excessive hot tap water.  The majority of the victims are older adults and children under the age of 5.

“All responsible adults in the household need to be aware of the risks and hazards of scalding do to the inefficiency of the hot water heater thermostat by checking the water temperature in the home. The installation of a thermostatic mixing valve at the water heater will help to prevent scalding issues in the home by maintaining the outlet temperature of the water from the water heater to a constant temperature. Such valves are already required in hospitals and nursing homes,” explained David Dertz, Secretary of the Illinois Plumbing Inspectors Association and President of the South Suburban Building Officials Association.