Fireworks (wink) are illegal (wink)
By MONIQUE FIELDS
© St. Petersburg Times,
July Fourth is the kind of holiday that prompts folks to work at a rock quarry, flag down trains and frighten birds from fish hatcheries or farm fields with pyrotechnics -- right?
Those are about the only legal reasons that a person can buy most fireworks in Florida.
Of course, most of us don't live anywhere near a quarry, a train or a farm. Still, we have this fascination with bright lights and fire. And if we don't intend to settle for watching officially sanctioned fireworks shows, we will head straight to the ubiquitous temporary fireworks tents that have seemingly sprung up on every corner.
We will make our choices among Lady Crackers, bottle rockets, Roman candles, Artillery Shells and, of course, the Hicktown Heaven, a multirocket display best suited for a big finale.
And we will, uh, fudge a bit on how we intend to use these explosives.
At a temporary fireworks tent across from Clearwater's Main Post Office on Belcher Road, purchasers are asked to sign a form that guarantees they "have reviewed Section 791.04 of Chapter 791, Florida Statutes," and further declares that their purchases fall within "the exceptions specified therein."
The law, which isn't spelled out on the form, mentions the quarry, train and bird exceptions, along with military and use at athletic ceremonies. The only fireworks that can be legally bought and sold as such in Florida are sparklers, smoke bombs and snappers.
So what better way to celebrate the nation's independence than by getting around its laws?
Everybody knows the form is a bunch of hooey, including the people selling the fireworks.
"Now, you tell me who's going to use Roman candles for quarrying?" asked Laurel Zyvoloski, 52, the operator of the Clearwater stand. "There are 10- or 20-million tents around here. There are not that many people doing quarrying or scaring away birds."
The whole scenario frustrates Largo fire rescue Chief E. Caroll Williams. He shakes his head and mumbles under his breath as he drives past fireworks tents and thinks about the serious injuries and fires that can result from misuse.
"So many people are allowed to purchase fireworks, you can't control the use of them," he lamented.
The police are in on it, too.
If you set off your fireworks and your nosey neighbor tattles to the law, will you end up in jail?
"Oh, Lord, no," said Clearwater Police spokesman Wayne Shelor. "But we do take it seriously when it gets dangerous."
What will happen to your fireworks?
"We take them," said Sheriff's Office spokesman Cal Dennie.
What else is likely to happen?
If it is a serious infraction, meaning someone was hurt or a large amount of fireworks was in use, authorities may summon you to a court appearance and require payment of a $60 fine. In most cases, though, the answer is . . . nothing.
"We're not going to make a criminal case out of it," Dennie said.
But for goodness sake, authorities say, be careful and use some common sense.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
North Pinellas desks