In Depth: New Law has Fireworks Fans Excited, Safety Officials Nervous

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The effect of a state law signed by Governor Beshear back in March comes down to this week, the final days leading up to the July 4th holiday. The significance of House Bill 333 will be loud, bright, and soar high into the air. Brenna Angel has more on Kentucky's new regulations of fireworks.

It took Tim Dixon and his brother around 14 hours to set up their fireworks stand this past weekend. They've got a prime spot in the parking lot of a Super Wal-mart in Lexington. The tent is smaller that what Dixon is used to working under, but the stand is packed with the biggest and most expensive fireworks the brothers have ever sold.

"It's Class C Consumer Use. First time in the state of Kentucky, first time here in Fayette County. We're excited; everybody seems to be excited about it. We've had people coming in comparing it to Tennessee and Indiana. We've had great response as far as the merchandise that's available here."

Kentuckians used to have to go out of state to buy class C, or 1.4, consumer fireworks. But that changed with the passage of House Bill 333. It's completely changed the Dixon brothers' inventory. They now carry roman candles, bottle rockets, and firecrackers.

"I like a visual thing, but I like something that goes boom. So the louder the boom the better. I like something that shakes you deep down when it goes off," says shopper Ed Cotterell.

Cotterell browsed over the tables at the fireworks stand, looking over products labeled Mojo Magic, Texas Cyclone, and Jolly Roger. As he showed me a box of fireworks he picked out, it was clear Cotterell was prepared to spend well over a hundred dollars.

"My son particularly likes bottle rockets so we got several bottle rockets. We got some things here that go way up in the air and go boom and make lots of light. These here are the titanium firecrackers. They supposedly make lots of light on the ground when they blow up. This is like a multi-shot firework. My favorite color is blue so that's why I bought that one because it says blue on it. I don't even know what it does!"

The new fireworks law doesn't have everyone excited. Battalion Chief Marshall Griggs of the Lexington Division of Fire says the greater explosive potential from these bigger fireworks mean's there's a greater chance for injury. Griggs has seen what can happen when people get careless.

"Significant hand and eye injuries. That's actually very common with fireworks especially if you're not doing it safely or you're letting children handle them. And we have seen some structure fires that have occurred because of aerial devices - in the past illegal aerial devices - that have been fired too close to other structures and have caused problems."

There used to be a saying among Kentucky public safety workers: If it goes up or blows up, it's illegal. The fireworks legislation may have made that catch phrase obsolete, but police Sgt. Clayton Roberts does see a positive to the new law. He oversees Lexington's Hazardous Devices Unit.

"The best thing about the new law is it clarifies what's legal and what's not and it clarifies the enforcement of it. Where in the past, although it was more restrictive, it wasn't exceptionally clear and it made it difficult for us to enforce what was there. So on one hand there's more allowable but it gives us a little more teeth to enforce problem areas."

Roberts says Lexington police do not plan to have any extra patrols over the July 4th weekend to deal with fireworks. Instead, the public safety department has been proactive in getting the word about the safest way to use fireworks. Only adults should light the fuse, and the fireworks should be at least 200 feet away from people or property.

Fireworks vendor Tim Dixon says for some people, the public service announcements and safety demonstrations won't make a difference.

"Because you have a lot of people that are really old on those traditions, throwing a bottle rocket up in the air and not worrying about where it goes. We can't recommend things like that. You laugh with them, you understand what they do, but you have to promote the safety end of it."

Local governments across Kentucky can pass stricter fireworks ordinances that supersede the state law, but Lexington officials plan to wait and see what happens this holiday weekend.