Fire marshal: Leave fireworks to the pros

06/25/2014 12:00 AM

06/23/2014 3:14 AM

Last year, Independence Day was a Thursday, a workday. People went out, drank a little, watched fireworks a little, maybe shot off a few of their own, then called it a night.

Fire Marshal Clay Cawood,chief enforcer of Mansfield’s fireworks ban, was relatively pleased. But he’s not looking forward to this Fourth of July, which is on a Friday.

“Usually we patrol only two days,” he said. “Now we will be patrolling from Thursday night to Sunday.”

And he’s expecting to be busy.

Shooting fireworks is banned in every city in Tarrant County, and fireworks stands can sell their wares only in the unincorporated areas between cities, County Fire Marshal Randy Renoissaid. Those lesser-regulated areas also are the only places that people can unleash their freedom rockets – but not just anywhere.

“You have to be on your own property or get permission from somebody who has property in unincorporated areas,” he said. “These fools who buy their fireworks and pull down off the road to shoot them are not doing it right.”

And wherever fireworks are illegal, Cawood clarified, they are all illegal – even the lowly smoke bomb and black snake, which merely creates snake-shaped ash when lit.

Those who violate the city ordinance banning fireworks could face up to a $2,000 fine, although most are in the $200 to $300 range, Cawood said.

Officers can ticket violators and confiscate their stash of fireworks, but under a state law passed just in time for last year’s Fourth of July, the officers can no long confiscate unopened packages of fireworks.

“Now they just go to another place,” Cawood said. “Writing tickets is not solving the problem.”

But he’s not giving up on citations. He will send his four fire investigators, who are dually certified as police officers, on patrol through the city as well as some of its surrounding territories.

“We drive by, just to make sure we’re seen at the fireworks stands,” he said.

Which is not to say fireworks stands are places of ill repute. Cawood knows that hundreds of Mansfield high school band students start working this week at the TNT Fireworks Supercenter on FM 1187, just west of the city limits, to raise money for their band programs.

Last year, Timberview, Lake Ridge, Summit and Legacy high schools reaped about $10,000 apiece from their students’ fund-raising efforts during the Fourth of July and New Year’s seasons at the TNT store, operated by Louis and Gwen Lentz, said Timberview Band Booster Club President Doyle Mackey.

“Anywhere from 60 to 70 percent of our fundraising for the year comes from TNT,” Mackey said.

The program uses the money in a variety of ways, including to provide meals to the marching band during contests and to cut in half the costs of private music lessons for students of lower-income families.

“We’re not after the fireworks vendors,” Cawood assured. “The vendors sell fireworks in accordance with the law. We just don’t want them being shot in the city.”

He could get some help from the climate this year.

Although Tarrant County is experiencing “extreme” drought – one level below the worst, “exceptional” -- some soaking rains in the past couple of months and forecasts of sub-100-degree temperatures are tamping down some concerns about fires sparked by fireworks.

“As far as the overall county, we’re in fairly good shape because of the recent rains we’ve had,” said Renois. “We’ve got a lot more green vegetation.”

Cawood hopes to see results similar to those of the last Fourth of July.

“It was a good year for us,” he said. “Not a whole lot of people were shooting fireworks. There were a couple of intoxicated people we had to deal with. I can’t think of any injuries or fires. Last year we got lucky.”

Fireworks can cause havoc. Nationwide in 2011, they were linked to 9,600 injuries, touched off an estimated 17,800 fires and caused $32 million in property damage, although no deaths, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

In 2012, fireworks were involved in more than 8,700 injuries that were treated in hospital emergency rooms, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Children younger than 15 years old accounted for 30 percent of the injuries, and those under 20 years old comprised nearly half of all injuries.

The agency said it received reports of six deaths blamed on non-occupational fireworks discharges in 2012.

Cawood highly recommends that people in and around Mansfield satisfy their pyrotechnic urges by attending the city’s Rockin’ 4th of July fireworks show.

It’s actually on July 3, a day ahead of most area cities’ versions.

“I can tell you it’s going to be the best show that we have ever had,” said Angie Henley, the city’s cultural arts/special events supervisor. “It’s going to be a pretty amazing show. We don’t want to give it away. We want people to be surprised.”

The city hired a new pyrotechnics company, which Henley said will discharge 5,145 shells, well more than last year’s show.

The Rockin’ 4th returns to the Big League Dreams ballpark complex at 500 Heritage Parkway South, opening at 7 p.m. with inflatable bounces, ice-packed slides for inner tubing and a jalopy (glass-free) that kids can pound with hammers.

The band All Funk Radio Show kicks off at 7:45 p.m., and the fireworks follow at about 9:30 p.m.

Admission is free, and Henley recommends that patrons bring lawn chairs or blankets, sunscreen, bug spray and money for food and drinks at the on-site restaurants

Personal fireworks, pets, ice chests and coolers will not be permitted.

“The biggest thing,” Cawood said, “is be safe, have fun, go to the shows and don’t use fireworks in the city limits.”

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