Sparkler bans in Nassau, Suffolk aim to keep children safe

By Janelle Griffith
janelle.griffith@newsday.com
Updated June 30, 2018
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This Fourth of July, not a single spark will fly on Long Island.

Nassau and Suffolk counties have both banned sparklers in response to concerns from fire officials, volunteer firefighters, and medical experts.

“Nobody untrained should be touching fireworks, and that’s of any kind,” said John Murray, 68, who has been a Rockville Centre firefighter for more than 50 years. “Sparklers look so innocent, but they aren’t.”

Medical and some industry experts agree.

Across the country, records show nearly every firework-related injury to children 4 and younger is due to sparklers, which can be ground-based or handheld.

Their colorful and simple nature make them especially alluring to young children, experts say. But a sparkler’s tip can burn at around 2,000 degrees.

In his 14 years as a burn surgeon, Dr. Steven Sandoval has treated only children for sparkler-related injuries.

“All it takes is a second to have a second-degree burn,” said Sandoval, director of the Burn Center at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Sandoval, along with Suffolk County firehouses and volunteer firefighters, are among the most vocal against local sale of sparklers. In Nassau, Murray, chief instructor at the Nassau County Firefighters Museum and Education Center, and Steven Klein, vice president of the Firemen’s Association for the State of New York, pushed for the ban.

Klein, a 50-year member of the Oceanside Fire Department, said improperly stored fireworks can also pose a hidden danger to firefighters responding to a fire.

“There’s potential for injury all year round,” said Klein, 71.

Dan Creagan, of the Michigan-based Pyrotechnic Guild International, said sparklers are one of the most dangerous consumer fireworks because they burn at an incredibly high heat.

“I’m kind of surprised that people haven’t become concerned about them earlier,” said Creagan, who has worked in the fireworks industry for almost two decades. “I think New York’s laws can sometimes be limiting, but I think in this case, I completely understand it.”

In 2017, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that 68 percent of the total estimated fireworks-related injuries in 2016 occurred in the month surrounding July Fourth, with nearly one-third of those injured being children.

Sparklers are legal to sell in New York State around the July Fourth and New Year’s Eve holidays, except in counties that have placed their own bans. Nassau and Suffolk both did so in June. New York City also prohibits them.

When sparklers are easily accessible at certain times of year, people may feel they are safe to put in the hands of children, Creagan said.

Now, using a sparkler on Long Island can result in a fine of up to $500. Anyone selling the devices could face 15 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Creagan’s only fear with the ban is it will hurt the entire fireworks industry.

“There’s always the worry that there will be a domino effect against all consumer fireworks and there shouldn’t be,” Creagan said.

Consumer fireworks revenue rose to $885 million in 2017 from $825 million in 2016, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association.

Natalie Iovino-Schoenfeld, a Miller Place resident, said she thinks the ban overreaches. Her young daughter Abby got a small burn on her foot last summer when a stray spark from a sparkler landed inside her shoe.

Iovino-Schoenfeld said if there wasn’t a ban, she would allow her children — ages 2 and 4 — to handle sparklers with supervision around age 7, when she believes they would be old enough to understand the risks involved.

Sparklers, when used properly, are no more dangerous than a candle or match, said Iovino-Schoenfeld, 35.

Sandoval said he sees 4 to 8 young patients admitted to the hospital for sparkler and other fireworks-related injuries each year.

Incidents involving sparklers are often the result of sparks hitting a child in the face or setting fire to clothing.

“Some of the worst we have seen is hand burns or burns to the body,” Sandoval said, adding the latter would require a child wear special clothing while their burns healed.

Some parents think allowing kids to play with sparklers is a safer alternative to fireworks, experts say.

“The problem is they’re giving them something more dangerous than a firework,” Sandoval said. “The firework — at least you light it up and throw it. With a sparkler, you’re meant to hold on to it.”

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