Fire officials are warning Maryland residents not to buy or use illegal fireworks during the approaching holiday period because of the danger they pose -- especially to children.
At a news conference yesterday outside Union Memorial Hospital, fire officials set off several illegal devices in an attempt to demonstrate possible consequences.
They taped one popular illegal explosive known as a "quarter stick" to the hand of a doll and ignited the device. The explosion tore off all of the doll's limbs.
When another quarter stick was grasped by a plastic hand, it, too, exploded -- sending plastic fragments flying 75 feet away. The quarter stick has the explosive potency of a quarter of a stick of dynamite, officials noted.
They held yesterday's demonstration in an attempt to raise public awareness and minimize the number of fireworks-related injuries during the July 4 holiday weekend.
All fireworks are illegal in Baltimore City and in Montgomery and Prince George's counties except for those used in displays put on by licensed personnel. The only devices legal for public use in the rest of the state are sparklers, "snakes" and "snap-n-pops."
Fire officials warned that even those fireworks can be more dangerous than people realize.
"The wire tip of the sparkler can burn at up to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. It can ignite clothing and it can cause immediate third-degree burns if touched to the skin," said Deputy State Fire Marshal Bob Thomas.
Nationally, more than 11,000 injuries related to firework products were reported last year. In Maryland, 17 such injuries were reported last year in a two-week period that included the Fourth of July.
Officials blame parents for most of the injuries. "Parents just have them around the house. The usual story is that they're taken from the drawer or a shelf," said Dr. Dan Federowicz, a Union Memorial surgeon.
He said the saddest case he had seen involved a 7-year-old girl who ignited a quarter stick in her home. "She lost her entire hand. She thought it was a candle," he said.
"[Parents] give sparklers to 2- and 3-year-old children. They have no idea how dangerous it can be," said Deputy Fire Marshal Thomas.
Maryland imposes a $250 fine for possession of illegal fireworks. Montgomery County is even more strict with a $500 fine. There is a $1,000 fine for selling or distributing illegal fireworks anywhere in the state.