Local Politics

Lawmakers consider improving fireworks safety standards

Posted July 10, 2009 9:31 a.m. EDT

— 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.

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.