MATTOON — Illinois is in the minority of states that don’t allow the sale of bottle rockets, fire crackers and other high-power fireworks, but that doesn’t mean people don’t try to get them without crossing state lines.
Scott Long of Doniphan, Mo., operates the stand selling fireworks, the legal kind, near Cross County Mall in Mattoon. He said customers often ask if he has any fireworks for sale that are illegal in Illinois.
“Every customer that walks in,” he said.
Long works for a company in Missouri where “everything’s legal,” he said. The items that can be sold in Illinois are pretty popular, especially fountains and sparklers, he said.
“Sparklers are a big seller no matter what,” he said. “Every kid loves sparklers.”
But Long thinks the more powerful fireworks should be allowed here as well, especially since it’s not that far of a drive to Indiana or other states where they are.
“Basically, the state of Illinois is losing money from people driving across,” he said. “They’re going to get them anyway.”
Illinois is one of 10 states that don’t allow at least some larger or “consumer” fireworks, and Iowa is the only bordering state that has the same restrictions, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Officials acknowledged illegal fireworks are commonplace around Independence Day, but problems can result from the legal ones almost as much, they added.
The Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center emergency room typically gets “a few injuries” because of fireworks each year, maybe up to a dozen in the week before July 4, said Joe Burton, the ER’s medical director. There can be serious injuries from illegal fireworks but also sparks from sparklers getting into someone’s eyes, he said.
Burton said “poor judgement” is usually to blame for the injuries and they often involve someone who’s been drinking or a child who wasn’t supervised. The number of adults and children the ER treats is usually “about equal,” he said.
“What we see is just poor judgement, typically,” Burton said, though he added that making more powerful fireworks legal and more readily available would mean “the potential is escalated.”
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Police generally deal with fireworks only when someone complains about the noise, Mattoon police Deputy Chief Jason Taylor said. There are often complaints when someone uses fireworks after Independence Day but there are very few during the holiday and the week leading up to it, he said.
“People seem to accept the fact that their neighbors are going to light off fireworks,” Taylor said.
Noisy fireworks can lead to a citation for disturbing the peace and officers will confiscate illegal fireworks if they’re found, Taylor also said. However, while he thinks children probably shouldn’t use more powerful fireworks, he doesn’t see any reason they can’t be legal otherwise.
“I don’t think the government should legislate how to protect you from yourself,” he said.
Firefighters seldom have to respond to fires caused by fireworks, but people need to use common sense and handle them safely, Charleston fire Chief Pat Goodwin said. For example, kids “love to run around” with sparklers and that can lead to sparks catching their clothes on fire, he said.
The safest way to use fireworks that are legal in Illinois is to put them on the ground, Goodwin said. They also shouldn’t be used near vegetation, especially during dry conditions such as now, he said. (See related story.)
Goodwin also said he thinks Illinois residents should be happy using what’s legal here and then go to municipal fireworks show “to see the big stuff” instead of buying illegal fireworks.
“It’s a safer city without them,” he said.
Firefighters seldom have to respond to fires caused by fireworks, but people need to use common sense and handle them safely, Charleston fire Chief Pat Goodwin said. For example, kids “love to run around” with sparklers, which catch clothes on fire, he said.
The safest way to use fireworks that are legal in Illinois is to put them on the ground, Goodwin said. They also shouldn’t be used near vegetation, especially during dry conditions, he said.
Goodwin also said Illinois residents should be happy using what’s legal here and go to municipal fireworks show “to see the big stuff.”
“It’s a safer city without them,” he said.