It’s still illegal to set off amateur fireworks in Ohio

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HUDSON, Ohio--Wednesday was expected to be among the busiest days for American Fireworks in Hudson.

"It's going to be booming tonight into tomorrow and we will be getting a lot of business into Friday because of the barbecues this weekend," said John Sorgi, whose family has been selling fireworks for four decades.

Though the fireworks that are being sold there are legal to sell in Ohio, many of them are still illegal to set off here.

Customers no longer have to sign a waiver, but on their receipts the company has a printed reminder that any fireworks purchased in the state of Ohio have to be removed from the state within 48 hours of purchase.

That is not true of sparklers, pop-its, and items that only generate smoke.

Despite the law, Sorgi knows that most all of what is being sold there will be fired off in nearby backyards during the July 4th holiday.

It is also a law that is difficult, if not impossible, to enforce.

With all of the 'illegal' fireworks that were set off in Akron last year the police department did not, or more appropriately, could not issue a single citation.

The department expects to get hundreds of calls in the coming days from people turning in neighbors for detonating the illegal fireworks.

Officers say it becomes a cat and mouse game where unless the firework is detonated right in front of them it is nearly impossible to make a case.

Add to that the fact that other, more serious calls will take priority.

It is for that reason, among others, that state lawmakers continue to work on legislation to legalize what is now illegal to detonate in Ohio.

State Senator Dave Burke has proposed Senate Bill 72 which would allow anyone who can possess consumer grade fireworks in the state to discharge, ignite or explode those fireworks either on their own property or on the property of another who has given them permission.

Burke calls the current law that requires customers not to set off fireworks in Ohio "the big lie."

"To me, what's happening today -- the yeah, I'm buying it but I promise I'm not going to light it here -- I mean, that is just a terrible policy, so to me, we are in this fireworks purgatory, for lack of a better term, so if you want to do it, then let's do it the right way," Burke told FOX 8 News.

Burke says when lawmakers looked at fireworks injuries dating back to 1976 they discovered that the amount of fireworks that have been sold in the state have increased 800% but the number of injuries has remained the same or dropped.

He also says legalizing fireworks in other states where they were previously illegal to detonate barely made any difference.

"What I found is that this is one of those activities that people are going to participate in or not pretty much regardless of the circumstance," said Burke.

Sorgi agrees. "It's not like all of a sudden we are going to have a 75-percent kick and there are going to be fireworks everywhere; people are comfortable shooting fireworks or they are not, and it's still probably going to be the same bunch," said Sorgi.

The legislation would allow local communities to collect tax dollars from the sale of the fireworks that could go toward their fire departments.

It also would give local communities the ability to continue to ban the fireworks if they choose and would allow local lawmakers to set dates and times when using fireworks is legal.

"If this is that much of an issue in terms of public safety then where is the legislator who is going to drop a ban bill, because there has never been a piece of legislation that would actually make these illegal to sell own and discharge in the state of Ohio," said Burke.

Burke also believes that legalizing the fireworks would enable the state to better educate consumers on how to safely use them.

"If you give people the ability to do something legally, even if it is just for one day, they will do so legally," said Burke.

Sorgi believes the consumer fireworks that are being sold now are safer than they have ever been, even though there remains the chance that someone can be hurt by them.

Still, there are opponents to the change.

Akron Fire Department Lieutenant Siergie Lash says even one injury is too many and agencies, including the Summit County Safe Kids Coalition, remain adamantly opposed to any effort to legalize all fireworks.

Lash estimates there were between 11 and 15 visits to local emergency rooms in the last year due to firecrackers.

Even sparklers, which are legal, can burn at about 1,000 degrees and cause serious burns.

Lash advocates leaving fireworks to the professionals.

The fire department and police, however, are ultimately there to enforce whatever the law is and the biggest message to everyone who is using fireworks is to do so responsibly.

"People have them in their hands. They are going to be blowing them off tomorrow night. We just encourage safety, safety safety -- buckets of water, flat surfaces and just have the responsible people shooting them." said Sorgi.

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