Local News

Fireworks to go off amid heightened safety

Posted July 2, 2010 5:06 p.m. EDT
Updated July 3, 2010 8:14 a.m. EDT

— North Carolinians setting off fireworks this Fourth of July weekend will operate under tighter safety regulations than a year ago when an explosion killed four Wayne County residents.

"We think the more training and the more education that operators can have, the better," said Kerry Hall, spokesman for the Office of the State Fire Marshall.

A new law requires anyone using pyrotechnics for a public show to complete a training course and receive an operators' license. Temporary permits can be issued for people who have worked on at least six fireworks shows before.

So far, the state has issued more than 400 permits this year.

Last July 4, four members of a fireworks crew – Terry Holland, 49, Mark Hill, 21, Charles Kirkland Jr., 49, and Lisa Simmons, 41 – died when their truck blew up on Ocracoke Island. Inspectors determined the four were preparing to work on the fireworks' fuses and had spark-inducing tools with them.

Holland had led fireworks crews before, and Simmons had federal certification to handle fireworks. The other crew members didn't have experience with fireworks.

State law at the time stipulated that "experts" be responsible for fireworks but didn't define what an expert is. No certification or training was required for those setting off large-scale fireworks displays

"Before, it was up to local municipalities to decide what a fireworks expert was. There was no statewide regulation," Hall said. "Now we have a minimum benchmark of expertise that people must have."

The victims of last year's fireworks explosion will be honored this weekend.

The Lord's Table Church in Goldsboro will dedicate a park in their honor Sunday. All four people attended the church, and its pastor is the father of Kirkland.

Ocracoke Island decided not to hold a fireworks display this year.

The new state law also requires fireworks operators to get written permission from local authorities and to carry at least $500,000 in insurance coverage.

The new law applies only to public events. It does not affect the sale of fireworks to individuals.

Local authorities can impose stricter regulations on fireworks. For example, Rocky Mount bans all fireworks displays without a permit.

Police say it helps ensure safety and prevent false-alarm calls on an already busy night. Officers said they do not target people who have sparklers or legal fireworks.

Fire Marshal Phillip Davis urged people to go to professional displays.

"The kids can have while watching the professional displays, and you go home safe," Davis said.

Kenly rallies to put on Fourth of July celebration

In Kenly, the annual Independence Day fireworks display almost didn't happen. When the city couldn't afford fireworks in their budget, four local businesses stepped up to fund the display this year.

Instead of a July Fourth with no fireworks, Kenly saw its largest display in town history. Technicians set off about 1,000 fireworks during a nearly 40-minute show Friday night.

"Though this may seem like a small thing, we felt like it was important enough to put our money behind our efforts, and let's have this thing," said event organizer and business owner Ernie Brame.