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Fire officials, burn victim oppose bill to allow fireworks

After the series of explosions, Matt Crosbie forced his way out of the car. When he looked down, he saw the skin peeling from his arms.

Flashes of smoke, flames and burned flesh were the result of Crosbie’s attempt to launch mortar-like fireworks out the window of a moving car days before his high-school graduation. One of the explosives he fired from a cardboard tube bounced back into the vehicle, igniting more fireworks and leaving the car engulfed in flames.

Phoenix Fire Department officials said explosions like the 2004 incident, in which Crosbie suffered burns over 60 percent of his body, could become more frequent if state lawmakers approve a bill that would legalize consumer-grade fireworks in Arizona.

The legislation, House Bill 2258, introduced last month would permit merchants to sell nearly everything from Roman candles to more elaborate and colorful explosives.

The fireworks bill, introduced by Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, calls for the Arizona fire marshal to regulate fireworks sales through licensing and fees.

The bill has passed through a committee and faces a House vote soon. If passed, it would then go to the Senate.

During a recent legislative session, Biggs said, “It is time to get rid of the ‘nanny state’ and allow consumer fireworks, as defined in federal code.”

Some of those consumer fireworks are just as powerful as commercial fireworks used by professionals, according to fire experts.

Crosbie, who recently joined firefighters to speak out against the bill, said he was inspired to serve as a burn-victim advocate after his rehabilitation.

“I’ve had 30 surgeries, plenty of skin grafts,” said Crosbie, now 23. “I guess you could say I’m scarred for life because of this.”

The explosions and subsequent car fire in May 2004 left a giant burn mark in the intersection at 51st and Sweetwater avenues for years.

“When it blew up, I just remember loud noises and white light, then trying to stay out of the heat,” said Crosbie, who is studying to become a nurse and hopes to work with other burn survivors.

If approved, the bill would create a Consumer Fireworks and Novelties Fund where money collected from consumer fireworks licensing would go for legislative appropriation.

Phoenix Assistant Fire Chief Bobby Ruiz said the proposed legalization of consumer fireworks could create challenges for local fire departments.

The Phoenix-based Foundation for Burns and Trauma also joined the Fire Department in opposing the bill.

“We’ll respond to the aftermath, but we won’t have the ability to regulate them,” Ruiz said. “There isn’t a whole lot of difference in explosive power between basic fireworks and the professional grade.”


Fireworks facts

• Only professionals are permitted to use fireworks in Arizona. Trafficking fireworks from other states or Mexico is illegal. Use or possession of fireworks is a Class 1 misdemeanor that could result in fines up to $2,500 or up to six months in jail.

• In 2006, an estimated 9,200 people were treated at U.S. emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries. One-third of those people were younger than age 15.

• In 2005, residents reported nearly 1,800 fireworks-caused structure fires and 700 vehicle fires to U.S. fire departments. Those fires caused 60 injuries and $39 million in property damage.

• Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island have banned public access to all fireworks. Other states either prohibit some fireworks or maintain laws that allow adults to purchase consumer-grade fireworks in shops.

Sources: National Fire Protection Association, Phoenix Fire Department

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