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Date of Issue: August 06, 2008

Fireworks task force to lobby for state reform

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The Anna Maria Island Fireworks Task Force meets July 29 to discuss its campaign to curb the use of illegal fireworks over the July 4 weekend. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Members of a local fireworks task force will turn their focus from the beaches to the state capitol in an effort to reduce illegal fireworks use.

“The problem is a huge loophole,” Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford said July 29 in reference to a state law that allows for the public sale of an array of fireworks but some only for limited uses.

 Barford convened the Anna Maria Island Fireworks Task Force following a fireworks-related injury on the beach in Anna Maria on July 4, 2007.

Meeting on a monthly basis, representatives from the county, the Island cities, Longboat Key and local fire and law enforcement agencies came up with a plan to educate the public about illegal and legal fireworks in advance of July 4 and to enforce fireworks laws over the holiday - which involved the confiscation of illegal items.

In addition to stepping up enforcement, Barford requested that the Sandbar Restaurant cancel its annual July 4 public fireworks display to reduce the beach crowd. Some people who gathered for the professional, permitted show brought their own pyrotechnics to set off on the beach, creating a threat to people and wildlife.

“I just feel good that no one got hurt,” the mayor said last week during a task force meeting at city hall. “That was the key issue.”

“I feel it was pretty successful,” said Sgt. John Kenney with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office substation at Anna Maria City Hall. “There’s no comparison to years past as far as the illegal fireworks that went off.”

Kenney estimated that law enforcement officials confiscated about $6,000 worth of fireworks over three days in Anna Maria City alone.

Members of the task force agreed that a lot of people were angry over the crackdown.

Barford said a number of people called her “un-American” and the enforcement “unpatriotic.”

“There was a lot of negativity,” she said.

“We had a lot of people who were really, really, really mad,” Kenney said. “But it didn’t escalate.”

For July 4, 2009, Barford said the city would work with the Sandbar if the restaurant decides to host a public fireworks display.

The task force plans to continue its educational campaign, as well as some level of enforcement with confiscation of fireworks.

But in the coming months, the focus will be on lobbying the area’s state legislative delegation to revise Florida’s fireworks laws.

Barford planned to draft a letter to state lawmakers outlining the problem on Anna Maria Island, the effort the task force made to heighten safety this past holiday and the work she thinks legislators need to take up.

Generally, sparklers and fireworks-like items that do not shoot into the air or explode can be used in Florida.

Bigger, bolder fireworks, however, cannot be purchased in every locale and can only be set off for certain uses - a permitted public display, for work in a mine or on a railroad, or for use on a farm or in a fish hatchery.

People who purchase fireworks that propel through the air or go “boom” in Florida must sign a waiver that states, “I have reviewed Section 791.04 of Chapter 791 Florida Statutes and my purchase and use of the fireworks falls within the expectations specified therein.”

“We’re going to be struggling with this until there is some change at the state level,” said Bob Tollise, Manatee County’s HAZMAT coordinator.

“Until the state law is changed, people are going to remain confused about the personal use of explosive devices,” agreed Capt. Larry Leinhauser with Manatee County public safety.

At the conclusion of last week’s meeting, the task force agreed to meet again this winter.