Local Politics

Lawmakers consider improving fireworks safety standards

Posted July 10, 2009

— The state Legislature soon will consider changing the law following a Fourth of July fireworks explosion on Ocracoke Island that killed four people and severely burned a fifth.

Senate leader Marc Basnight's office said legislation will be unveiled next week designed to improve safety standards for the handling and transport of large amounts of fireworks.

N.C. laws do not require large-scale firework training N.C. laws do not require firework training

The bill being drafted would make clear who can handle the pyrotechnics and direct the state fire marshal to provide oversight.

Basnight's office said state law says "experts" are responsible for the fireworks but doesn't describe what constitutes an expert.

For large displays, law requires a permit from area leaders and approval from the local fire marshal. To buy professional-grade fireworks, a person must be age 21 or older and have a clean criminal record.

State Insurance Commissioner and Fire Marshal Wayne Goodwin called for more pyrotechnic safeguards after the explosion. He said no state laws require training or certification for people who set off large-scale firework displays.

"Even the smallest explosive charge can seriously maim and kill,” Goodwin said. "(We need laws) that provide certification and appropriate training for persons who are going to display fireworks and any explosives for that matter."

State and federal investigators have ruled the July 4 blast accidental but have not determined its cause.

Experts, who are not involved with the investigation, said the cause of a fireworks explosion could be a safety violation or an outside ignition source.

Family members said that at least two of those killed – Terry Holland, 49, and Lisa Simmons, 41 – had experience doing fireworks displays or had passed a federal background check to handle fireworks.

Terry Holland had been contracted to set up the island's fireworks display by South Carolina-based Melrose South Pyrotechnics. He recruited members of his church for his crew.

Simmons, Terry Holland, Mark Hill, 21, and Charles Kirkland Jr, all residents of Wayne County, were killed.

Martez Holland, 27 – the nephew of Terry Holland – survived. He had burns on 20 percent of his body and was in fair condition at the North Carolina Jaycees Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • Mustange Jul 10, 2009

    Where will this so called training be. How much cost wise. Who will be paying for it. and so on never ends

  • tfsparts Jul 10, 2009

    FoolOnTheHill - Correct about the statutes not defining expert, the statutes require an expert to perform the display and assign authority of approval to the board of commissioners for the county where the display will be performed. The county requires documented training and documented qualifications before they will approve the permit application at the first stage. Then the permit goes to the fire marshal where they approve or deny the application based on an interview with the operator and inspection of the site. Those approvals are based on following NFPA 1123 code, which defines the amount of training required, processes and equipment to be used, distance requirements, etc.

    I'm with fkhaywood, the cause has not been determined so I think it is too early to call for more legislation.

  • fkhaywood Jul 10, 2009

    How can you pass laws to prevent the accident when you don't know what caused the acident. Oh yeahm that's the way government works.

  • FoolOnTheHill Jul 10, 2009

    tfsparts - you are right about the legislation. The problem with the NC statute is if I remember what I read correctly, is that it doesn't define an expert.

    What probably happened (and I don't know the details, just speculation on my part) and is the usual case in most of these fireworks explosions is that there was a lot of gunpowder dust in the air. This is the reason static electicity is such a problem.

  • tfsparts Jul 10, 2009

    Thousands of displays took place around the state without incident. There are training and qualification requirements as well as permit requirements to shoot a fireworks display in North Carolina. The pyrotechnics industry is heavily regulated at the Federal, State, and Local levels in the handling, transportation, storage, and use. If you're interested in learning more read US Code Title 18, ATF P 5400.7, US DOT CFR 49, NC General Statutes Chapter 14, NFPA 1123 and your local county ordinances. All of these regulate and assign authority over the pyrotechnics industry.

  • OpinionOnEverything Jul 10, 2009

    Nothing will change for the better, unless folks selling fireworks in SC are forced by their legislature to limit sales only to SC residents by showing ID's and proof of residence. Sure, some will get around it, like they do with firearms, but passing new laws in NC are unnecessary and ineffective. If you can't enforce the law with so many people expressing mass civil disobedience and fewer and fewer officers on patrol, then NC is just wasting time and effort with new legislation.

  • EverythingTicksMeOff Jul 10, 2009

    Yeah, right. This is unnecessary legislation. Uh huh. What if that truck had blown up in closer proximity to more people, and more people had been killed. You all would have been screaming bloody murder. Three of the people who were involved were not trained in any way. Ya' think they now wish that there had been some required training? Jeez people! Think with your brains for a minute. Think about the unreal precautions that fireworks manufacturers take to avoid accidents and then do you really think it makes sense to dump a truckload of fireworks on a group of untrained people? Next time, it won't be just a few people killed, it will be something worse. Just think if the truck had gone up while they were pumping gas at a big old gas station. You should be screaming about the fact that the state has never done anything about this before, rather than hiding behind this "got the budget done yet?" nonsense.

  • Iwasasoldier4u Jul 10, 2009

    The law breakers, {oops} should just pay attention to the matters at hand that affect every citizen and get the things that they and politicians before them have done to really mess up this state straightened out before they start making new regulations on anything. This is a beautiful state and the corruption that is ongoing everyday in Raleigh is really stinking it up. They know we know what is going on but they also know there isn't a thing we can do about it. Our day will come however.

  • NCPictures Jul 10, 2009

    Isnt it amazing how government is an expert in EVERYTHING???? Thank GOD they are there, else we would be drooling mass of flesh. In other words dumb masses.

  • speedy Jul 10, 2009

    Hello! Got all that budget stuff cleared up, did ya?