Fireworks users face challenges

Deafening noise, possible injury and air pollution aside, those who want to keep a New Year’s tradition alive must again shell out $25 in order to buy the strings of red firecrackers traditionally set off at the stroke of midnight.

The first day of New Year’s fireworks sales is on the day after Christmas, and the Kaua’i Fire Department has approved 120 permit applications so far this holiday season, according to Fire Prevention Bureau inspector Russell Yee.

Battalion Chief Dave Walker said the KFD is again expecting a rush of last-minute applicants to line up at their door the afternoon of Dec. 31, when people realize they can’t purchase firecrackers without first obtaining a county permit.

Last year, 415 permits were issued, compared with 626 in 2000, the first year the permits were required by law.

This New Year’s Eve marks the third year of the state’s “Fireworks Control Law,” which has reduced injuries and emergency medical calls related to fireworks smoke, but it’s clear the number of people celebrating with fireworks is dropping. The decline may related to the drop in stores carrying licenses for firecracker sales, Yee said.

Before the law took effect, nearly every store from Waimea to Hanalei sold the little red firecrackers. This year, 16 stores obtained sales licenses but only six of them have firecrackers, according to KFD Fire Inspector Russell Yee.

Other stores and fireworks stands in Puhi and Waipouli sell novelties that don’t require a permit, like sparklers, fountains, pagodas and spinners. One permit allows 5,000 firecrackers, but there is no limit to how many permits may be purchased per person.

Fewer fireworks on the island means the air will be clearer – good news for asthma sufferers. In Hawaii, there are about 400,000 people with asthma, and fireworks smoke can cause attacks and irritate respiratory ailments.

“What is meant to be in the spirit of fun can become a respiratory nightmare to anyone with breathing challenges whose neighborhood comes under one of the lingering fireworks clouds,” said American Lung Association of Hawaii’s (ALAH) Program Coordinator Jan Robertson.

Through the “Safe Haven” project, the ALAH is distributing free dust respirator masks to people who need protection.

American Lung Association’s tips on keeping clear:

– Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke.

– Stay indoors with windows and doors closed, and use an air conditioner and/or air purifier.

– Drink fluids, especially warm liquids to loosen up mucus and help “good coughing.”

– Keep medications easily available, and be sure to prepare for any acute episode.

– Using a paper, gauze, or nontoxic dust mask may help; moistening it with baking soda and water may enhance filtration. Discard the mask if it interferes with breathing.

Paramedic Danny Sagadraca said that “common sense” safety precautions should be taken to avoid injury. Repacking the gunpowder from firecrackers to make “bombs,” sparklers and those that spin or leave the ground are the most dangerous, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Always have water nearby, and don’t hesitate to call for medical help for a serious injury.

Those under 18 must have adult supervision under the state’s fireworks law. Nationwide, 23 percent of fireworks injuries happen to ages 10-13. But 23 percent of reported injuries occur with people 25-44. The most common injury is burns.

An alternative to smoke inhalation, deafness and burning skin is to attend the one public fireworks display this year. It will be held at 10 p.m., and set up near Nukumoi Point from Poipu Beach Park. The best view is anywhere from Brennecke’s to the point in front of the Sheraton Kauai Resort. There will be entertainment at the Sheraton and toasting the new year with a glass of champagne (or any other alcohol) is allowed in the park.

Choose a designated driver ahead of time, as the KPD will be setting up random DUI checkpoints again this year.

Fireworks applications are available at all fire stations, the Department of Finance office, the Mayor’s office and at KFD headquarters in the Mo’ikeha Building in Lihu’e. The $25 fee must be paid at the Treasury Department. Hours for both offices are 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. weekdays.

The free dust masks are available at the American Lung Association’s office on Umi Street in Lihu’e. Call 245-4142 for further information.

For directions or more information about the Poipu New Year’s Eve Celebration, please call the Poipu Beach Resort Assocation at 742-7444.

Staff Writer Kendyce Manguchei can be reached at kmanguchei@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 252).

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