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City investigates fireworks blast that hurt 2 workers


Annapolis fire officials yesterday searched for the cause of an explosion that injured two fireworks company employees -- one of them critically -- and interrupted the city's fireworks show Monday night.

The accident occurred on a barge in the Severn River from which the fireworks were being launched.

About 15 minutes into the show, Robert Silverman, 40, a "shooter" for Pyrotecnico of New Castle, Pa., loaded a 10-inch shell into a firing mortar. The shell exploded in the mortar, scattering debris 30 feet and setting several small fires on the barge, fire officials said.

Mr. Silverman was struck in the head and chest and received second- and third-degree burns. He was flown to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where he was in critical condition yesterday.

Another fireworks employee, Scott Martin, 38, of Pittsburgh suffered a dislocated shoulder. He was treated at Anne Arundel Medical Center after the show and released.

Three barge workers and a guest were not hurt. They quickly put out the fires.

The explosion, which occurred at 9:27 p.m., stopped the show for about an hour. By the time the display resumed, many observers had left.

Stephen Vitale, president of Pyrotecnico, said a malfunctioning shell apparently caused the accident.

"This was a very experienced crew," he said.

Mr. Silverman and Mr. Martin had worked at the Annapolis show for 11 years, and Mr. Silverman had more than 20 years' experience in the business, he said.

Accidents in the pyrotechnics industry are uncommon, Mr. Vitale said, but they do happen. The one on Monday was the first for the 2-year-old company.

"We're definitely in a dangerous business," he said.

Mr. Vitale said Mr. Silverman is a dedicated employee who "eats and sleeps fireworks." He said doctors told him they expect Mr. Silverman to recover fully from his injuries.

The city's fireworks display had been enveloped in confusion and controversy for weeks. Until two weeks ago, it wasn't certain that the city would have a display.

In April, Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins decided to cut funding for the $50,000 show to counteract a shortfall in revenue.

But after a public outcry, the City Council slipped $20,000 for the show into the budget at the last minute. Area businesses and residents donated enough to allow the city to hold the event.

Though the funding wasn't assured until a few weeks ago, Mr. Vitale said his company had been planning to participate in the Annapolis show since last year.

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