Firefighters, surgeons issue warning as fireworks are made legal in Florida

ORLANDO, Fla. — For the first time in modern history, Floridians will be able to legally light off fireworks for the Fourth of July.

However, surgeons and some who have had life-changing experiences due to fireworks mishaps are advising residents to exercise caution when using them.

A bill signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in April makes it legal for Floridians to set off fireworks on three holidays: Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Previously, Floridians were asked to sign an affidavit stating that they would only use fireworks for specific reasons including mining, signaling a train or scaring birds away from a fish hatchery.

READ: Fourth of July celebrations: Which Central Florida events are canceled due to the pandemic?

With Independence Day events cancelled, many Floridians are likely to take celebrations into their own hands. But Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who doubles as the state fire marshal, said people need to be careful if using higher-powered explosives.

“Fireworks used in the wrong way are deadly,” he said. “Make sure you have a fire extinguisher nearby. Make sure your pets are in a safe place. There are just a number of things that, left unchecked, could lead to disastrous outcomes.”

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Josh Baker, a family man, Seminole County firefighter and self-proclaimed “fireworks injuree” was rushed to the hospital in 2015 after a fireworks accident in a friend’s backyard.

Doctors removed his big toe and attached it to his hand where his thumb once was. About a year later, he regained full function of his hand.

“I just simply lost a thumb, there are a lot of people that lose a lot more than that and some that don’t survive their injuries,” Baker said.

A bill signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis makes it legal for Floridians to set off fireworks on select holidays, including...

Posted by WFTV Channel 9 on Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Dr. Brett Lewellyn, director of hand and upper extremity surgery at Orlando Health, said his office has seen “some pretty severe injuries.”

In 2018, 14 people came to him after accidents involving Fourth of July fireworks. In 2019, he only saw three holiday-related injuries.

But this year, with fireworks being more accessible, Lewellyn said he is “expecting it to be much busier this year.”

READ: Eustis fireworks to take place Friday despite increases in COVID-19 in Lake County

Baker has a warning for those who plan on playing with fireworks this year.

“Whatever your background may be, an explosive is an explosive,” he said. “It can change your life forever.”

Specific rules about where fireworks can be used vary from county to county, and some areas of the state have active burn bans.

The law does not supercede local ordinances, which may still ban the use of fireworks within specific jurisdictions.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.