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As Fourth approaches, officials preach fireworks safety

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Sam Morris

Illegal fireworks, including a homemade one, are seen at the Las Vegas Fire Department’s annual fireworks safety demonstration, June 27, 2012.

Updated Friday, June 29, 2012 | 11:35 a.m.

Fireworks Safety

A watermelon is exploded during the Las Vegas Fire Department's annual fireworks safety demonstration Wednesday, June 27, 2012. The explosive charge was the equivilant of an M80. Launch slideshow »

An officer with the Las Vegas Fire & Rescue bomb squad pulled out his lighter, igniting the tip of an illegal firework embedded into a tomato.

Within seconds, the tomato disappears in a cloud of smoke. Pieces of disintegrated tomato fly in multiple directions.

The exercise Wednesday was meant to simulate what an illegal firework could do to a human hand.

In anticipation of the upcoming Independence Day celebration, fire officials played host to a fireworks safety demonstration at Las Vegas Fire & Rescue headquarters.

Presiding over rows of mannequins donated by the Nevada Burn Foundation, Tim Szymanski, spokesman for the Las Vegas Fire Department, discussed potential injuries — from burns to blindness — that can result from unsafe fireworks use.

Fireworks should be placed on a flat, firm surface like the ground or on driveways away from vegetation, Szymanski said. Setting fireworks off on streets, sidewalks and federal land is against the law, he added, with American Indian reservations being an exception.

Szymanski advised people using fireworks to have a garden hose and bucket ready in case of fire. He added that people should not relight “duds,” or fireworks that failed to go off the first time, as doing so is a leading cause of fireworks injuries.

Parents also should be wary of children who may touch matches and lighters. Just because the fireworks sold are required to be “Safe-N-Sane” does not mean parents should leave them where children can reach them, he said. If the temptation is there, kids may set them off where they’re not supposed to and cause substantial damage.

“(Fireworks) has the word fire in it,” he said. “It can cause fires.”

All fireworks purchased in Clark County must carry a “Safe-N-Sane” emblem, Szymanski said. This certifies that they have been approved by local fire department representatives. These fireworks can only be sold in booths operated by nonprofit groups, like churches and cheerleading squads. It is legal to light "Safe and Sane" fireworks from June 28 through July 4.

People who are caught with illegal fireworks can be fined and face sentences of up to six months in jail, he said.

Police, he said, can confiscate fireworks and hand out citations for failing to clean up their debris.

He asked anyone seeing unsafe fireworks conditions to call 311.

After Szymanski’s presentation, a member of the bomb squad lit illegal fireworks inserted into pieces of fruit, obliterating a tomato and a cantaloupe while leaving a watermelon with a charred top.

Afterward, Szymanski lit “Safe-N-Sane” fireworks. The canister shot rounds of green and gold sparks into the air before puttering out in a wave of smoke.

Although July 4 remains the busiest day of the year for firefighters, incidents have diminished through the years due to increased public awareness of safety issues and the legal consequences of misusing fireworks, Szymanski said.

“Fifteen years ago, we didn’t have a single engine in the house,” he said.

Now fireworks-related calls are mostly limited to Dumpster and brush fires.

Szymanski did warn that in the past, garage fires have occurred on July 5, as spent fireworks have been placed into trash cans, smolder overnight, then reignite and catch other materials on fire. To avoid such accidents, he advises people to soak spent fireworks in a bucket of water until they get mushy, then dispose of them properly.

Wednesday’s event also featured Jim Baschnagel, owner of Basch Construction Co., who presented a $22,589 check to the Southern Nevada Burn Foundation. The money was raised as part of a benefit golf tournament and will go to buy more mannequins and provide more support for CPR training, Baschnagel said.

CORRECTION: This story was updated to reflect the days fireworks can be used by the public. | (June 30, 2012)

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