With Maine becoming the fifth New England state to legalize the sale of fireworks, Massachusetts residents are flocking across state lines to buy what they cannot get at home, driving heavy sales and sparking worries about fire and injury.
Massachusetts Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said that in the past three days two fireworks-related fires were reported and that he anticipates July Fourth will be one of the busiest days of the year for firefighters and paramedics.
“Even though fireworks are prohibited, the industry can and does market itself on Massachusetts radio spots and other forms of advertising as a way to entice Massachusetts residents to purchase fireworks,” Coan said.
Fireworks sales are now legal in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. Clerks in some fireworks stores said they have already hit record sales numbers, and many customers are from Massachusetts.
“People flock to New Hampshire,” said April Walton, a store manager at Phantom of Seabrook. “If Massachusetts would stop fighting it so hard, there would be millions of dollars to be made for the state.”
Walton said her store has sold more than $3 million worth of fireworks and estimates that 15 percent of her customers come from Massachusetts. Michael Dapkus, who manages Dapkus Fireworks in Connecticut and Stateline Fireworks in New Hampshire, said 30 percent of their commercial sales are to Massachusetts residents.
Private citizens cannot sell, use, or possess fireworks in Massachusetts, but the tide of contraband that comes into the state each year, especially around the July Fourth holiday, is massive. Coan said his main concern is educating the public on the risks associated with using fireworks.
“From my research and statistics on injuries and incidents, there is no one device or category that we consider safe,” Coan said.
Dapkus said that as a former paramedic he understands some of the reservations that Massachusetts officials have in allowing commercial fireworks sales, but he said most fireworks accidents are caused by “operator error.” The key, he said, is to educate people on how to use fireworks.
“Most parents think sparklers are great things for children to hold, and we tell them no,” Dapkus said. “ There is a good chance they can get a spark on them, and they can get burned.”
Maine’s acting fire marshal, Joe Thomas, said officials there responded to two incidents involving fireworks this week, including a fire caused by children putting a sparkler in a toaster.
Maine legalized the sale of fireworks this year. Thomas said Maine officials continue their efforts to educate residents about risks and use.
“Our role here is to see that it is done as safely as possible,” Thomas said. “This is something that has been illegal since 1949, so we are looking at a use of something that people aren’t very familiar with.”
Thomas said mostfireworks incidents are caused by “some type of human error or human element using them for a manner for which they are not intended.”
Coan said legalization of fireworks in Maine will probably not cause more illegal use of fireworks in Massachusetts.
Still, Bill Wade, manager at Pyro City Maine in Edgecomb, said he has seen many customers from Massachusetts. He said many Massachusetts residents are probably vacationing in Maine and excited to be able to use fireworks there legally. “They feel it’s been a long time coming,” Wade said. “They are overjoyed that they can buy fireworks here and don’t have to bring them in illegally.”
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