A change in South Carolina's fireworks law has improved the safety of temporary fireworks stands, owners say, and worries that inspectors would not be able to cover the entire state have not materialized.
Under the previous law, temporary fireworks stands were inspected by local fire departments or sheriff's deputies. "Things were real inconsistent, with different municipalities doing the inspections," says Luke Walker, who owns two fireworks stands and has been in the business for 16 years. "Different inspectors, with different rules; some want different things done."
But under the law that took effect in 2010, the State Fire Marshal is now responsible for all fireworks inspections. While some owners were concerned that the Fire Marshal's office wouldn't have enough people to do all the inspections in time, State Fire Marshal Shane Ray says, "Our deputy state fire marshals have inspected all consumer fireworks stands throughout the state. That's over 700 of those, and I wasn't aware of any problems we had during that process."
Walker says, "With the Fire Marshal doing it now it's much more consistent and easy to get done."
Fireworks stand operator Rick Boothe says, "It's actually improved the quality of our stands, I think, because I didn't know a lot of the fire laws. With the fire marshals, they educate you. They show you, you know, what to look for now."
The 2010 law also raised the legal age for buying fireworks to 16. It had been legal for 14-year-olds to buy them before the change. Marti Bluestein, who was buying fireworks on the 4th with her 14- and 10- year-old daughters, says, "I love my 14-year-old, but I'm also a mom, so I think the increase to 16 is just fine with me."
The law also made it illegal to set off fireworks within 300 feet of a fireworks stand, and the stands are required to have signs letting customers know that. The State Fire Marshal says he doesn't know what the penalty is for violating that because he doesn't know of a case getting to the point of legal action.
"We don't have many complaints," he says. "We have had some, with fireworks being discharged within 300 feet of the stand, and we were able to send a deputy there and explain the law to them, which they complied with."
Stand operator Boothe says, "People are usually pretty cooperative. They say, 'I don't want to blow up.'"
While the Fire Marshal hasn't had any trouble doing the inspections of the temporary fireworks stands, he says he does not have enough people to inspect all of the public fireworks shows. He has 16 deputy fire marshals spread across the state, but there are 51 public fireworks shows in 21 counties on July 4th.
Ray says they'll make random inspections, and the professionals who set off the public fireworks have to get permits and have liability insurance.
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