- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2002

The Fourth of July is "the one time of year when normally law-abiding citizens break the law," a Montgomery County fire official said during a fireworks-safety demonstration yesterday.

"Our mission is to make sure people have a safe Fourth of July," Assistant Fire Marshal Brian Geraci said before federal agents detonated several kinds of illegal fireworks that had been confiscated from county residents.

The Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service yesterday conducted its annual fireworks-safety demonstration at its 56-acre Public Safety Training Academy in Rockville in anticipation of Independence Day celebrations.

County fire officials were assisted by agents from the Baltimore office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), who demonstrated the explosive powers and dangers of fireworks.

ATF Agent Richard Gonzalez and others detonated several 6-inch-long "quarter sticks," or M1000s, roughly the equivalent of one-fourth of a stick of dynamite. These fireworks, which contain 27.5 grams of explosive powder, are often homemade and are illegal in all 50 states, said Mr. Gonzalez.

The agents detonated the quarter sticks in several watermelons and on a mannequin, blowing off the mannequin's hand and tearing a hole in its thigh.

Fireworks of that type "have a high probability of causing traumatic amputation and death in a lot of cases," said Mr. Gonzalez.

Fire officials hammered home the message that all types of fireworks are illegal in Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties. "We're trying to emphasize, everything is illegal," said Pete Piringer, a spokesman for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue.

"We want to clear up the confusion around the new law in the state of Maryland. Essentially, it's pretty simple: All fireworks are illegal in Montgomery County," said Chief Geraci, referring to a new law that redefined fireworks and removed ground-based sprinkler fireworks from the official classification of illegal fireworks.

In Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties, as well Ocean City and Bel Air, ground-based sprinklers are still illegal. Only snap-and-pop noisemakers, "snakes" and party poppers are permitted.

Adding to the confusion are advertisements like the one in the Gazette Newspapers on Wednesday for Phantom Fireworks in Breezewood, Pa., which delivers by mail, fire officials said.

"This makes it more difficult for us to enforce," said Chief Geraci, adding that receiving mail-order fireworks is illegal.

Chief Geraci said he expects to see an increase in injuries and fires from fireworks this Fourth of July because of confusion over the law and because of the pressure children sometimes put on their parents to present their own fireworks shows.

"[Parents] cannot succumb to that pressure," he said.

"We do not want you to have your own backyard show, injuring someone, killing someone, or setting someone's house on fire."

Chief Geraci said residents should go to state- and county-organized fireworks displays, which are conducted by licensed professionals in public spaces.

Police will issue $500 citations for possession of illegal fireworks on and around July Fourth, he said.

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