When Suffolk County officials used fireworks Wednesday to blow up a watermelon and ignite a car fire, they had every intent of delivering a spectacle. The implication of the big-bang demonstration at the county's fire-training field in Yaphank is that illegal use of fireworks over the Fourth of July weekend can instantly cause serious injury, even death.
Imagine the watermelon as someone's hand or the flame-licked car as a family vehicle loaded with fireworks after being rear-ended on the Long Island Expressway, County Executive Steve Levy said, as smoke from a burning Ford Mustang filled the sky behind him.
The fiery displays were a reminder to be safe over the holiday weekend, Levy said, and that fireworks of all kinds - unless handled by a licensed professional - are illegal in New York State. "Enjoy the fireworks, but leave it to the professionals," Levy said. "We want parents to know that the things their kids might be lighting can be as powerful as a quarter-stick of dynamite, truly deadly."
Nassau County officials also warned against fireworks use this weekend in a news release. Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey said the use, sale or possession of fireworks violates state law and can be punishable as a misdemeanor or felony.
Levy urged a safe weekend, announcing extra patrols for police precincts, marine bureaus and even canine crews as precautionary measures against drunken driving and reckless behavior. Meanwhile, Stu Cameron, commanding officer for Suffolk's special patrol bureau, pointed to the common sparkler as a firework mostly overlooked by parents.
"It is thought to be harmless," Cameron said, "but it burns at close to a thousand degrees and can cause serious injury." About 16 percent of all fireworks injuries are caused by sparklers, he said.
Levy's staff could not supply statistics for fireworks injuries on Long Island during holiday periods, but the Consumer Product Safety Commission in a 2008 study said about 7,000 injuries annually are related to fireworks.
Cameron said that some individuals purchase mortar-like explosives in other states, including M-1000s, which are the equivalent of a quarter-stick of dynamite. Five such mortar-like devices stashed in the Mustang trunk helped ignite the car fire, officials said. "They're quite dangerous," Cameron said.
Levy's staff also said that six extra 911 emergency operators would be assigned during the weekend to assist what normally is a staff of 12 to 18 operators. For nonemergency police situations, Levy said, residents should call 631-852-COPS (2677).
"We want to make sure this is the safest holiday weekend our residents in Suffolk County have ever enjoyed," Levy said.