07/17/09 — Senator proposes stronger rules for fireworks

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Senator proposes stronger rules for fireworks

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 17, 2009 1:46 PM

Responding, he said, to the fireworks explosion on Ocracoke Island that left four Wayne County residents dead and another severely injured, state Sen. Don Davis has introduced a new bill that would strengthen statutes regarding the use of pyrotechnics.

Davis, D-Greene, said the bill, which would create a permitting process, passed unanimously through the Senate Committee on State and Local Government on Thursday. It next will go to the Senate Finance Committee and then to the Senate floor for a full vote.

"It was motivated by the explosion at Ocracoke," he said. "As I've been looking at the situation, going back looking at the statute, the statute seemed somewhat ambivalent and not clear on who's an expert and who's able to transport, display and handle pyrotechnics. What this bill does is bring some clarity to this."

Currently, the law prohibits the manufacture, transportation, sale or use of pyrotechnics, except in connection with approved public displays, and it requires only that those displays be held under the supervision of experts who have been issued permits by cities and counties to discharge those pyrotechnics.

However, there is no definition of what an expert is.

Davis' bill would change that, requiring that all pyrotechnics be handled only under the supervision of a state-licensed display operator -- somebody 21 or older who has assisted on authorized displays at least three times, who has completed the minimum training set by the state fire marshal, passed an approved exam and who has paid a licensure fee of no more than $100.

Additionally, his bill would require all individuals assisting the display operator to obtain training or be a current active member in good standing with any local fire or rescue department with experience in pyrotechnics or explosives.

And finally, Davis' bill would require all display operators to provide proof of insurance of $500,000 or the minimum required under the State Building Code, whichever is greater, before receiving a local permit from a city or county government.

The new regulations would not apply to people looking to use the run-of-the-mill fireworks that can be legally purchased in North Carolina.

Davis explained that he and his staff arrived at the bill's requirements after analyzing statutes in other states and then looking at "what would work best in North Carolina."

"This is to ensure that true experts and expertise are in place," he said.

He added, however, that while motivated by the events in Ocracoke, this bill was not necessarily meant as a reflection on expertise of the group that was handling the fireworks there.

"This is something that would be important without that mishap, but it did really trigger a look at this statute," he said. "This legislation is critical to safeguarding those who handle deadly explosives, and it's critical to making sure our families are safe at these occasions.

"I've been keeping up with the situation (on Ocracoke) and the investigation is still ongoing, but the report should be released in a few weeks and that should help us understand a lot more what happened.

"Right now we need to continue to rally around the families. It's important for us to be supportive."