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Hot Products : Holiday: In the cities that still allow them, buyers snatch up fireworks at stands that raise funds for nonprofit groups. But pressure to ban them continues, as questions about safety persist.

July 01, 1993|ANDREW LEPAGE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

THE REGION — Fourteen-year-old Junior Sahgal begs to differ with adults who think fireworks belong at the Rose Bowl and should not be sold on the street.

"It gets pretty boring just watching fireworks," Junior says, his three pals from Baldwin Park nodding their agreement.

Thankful to be living in one of the 12 San Gabriel Valley cities that have resisted the countywide movement to ban fireworks sales, the boys say they would much rather celebrate the Fourth of July by buying and igniting their own fireworks.

And buy they did this week, though state law prohibits the operators of fireworks stands from selling to anyone younger than 16.

Asked where he had bought his box of six Piccolo Petes--those high-pitched whistlers that send dogs darting underneath beds--Junior pointed to a fireworks stand operated by off-duty California Highway Patrol officers on Francisquito Boulevard.

Junior's friend, 9-year-old Michael Quinn, said he plopped down $4 at the same stand earlier in the day to buy some sparklers, fountains and other fireworks that he then lighted on a nearby street.

"Last year they said we had to be older," Michael said, referring to fruitless attempts to buy fireworks a year ago.

The stand where the boys say they bought fireworks is one of 14 set up in Baldwin Park this year by charitable organizations. Each will raise thousands of dollars from sales between now and Sunday's holiday. Throughout the valley, more than 100 fireworks stands, all operated by charities, were expected to be in operation by today.

Called the 10/10 (the radio code for "off-duty") Club, the local group of Highway Patrol officers and their families for years have raised funds for vehicle accident victims by selling fireworks in Baldwin Park. The group made little money last year because most of their fireworks were stolen, but the goal this year is $10,000--about $3,000 more than the group earned in 1991, according to the group's fireworks sales coordinator, Dayle Pipher.

Pipher, a CHP officer who took the week off to help run the fireworks stand, said he has instructed fellow volunteers who sell fireworks to ask for identification from youths who appear younger than 16. Pipher said that as far as he knows, no one at the stand sold fireworks to anyone younger than 16.

"But how do you know?" he said. "A lot of times they don't carry identification at that age. If it's questionable, we'll tell the kids to bring back their parents to buy them. Otherwise, word gets out that 'these guys will sell to anybody.' "

County fire officials said they have limited resources to police the sale of fireworks, but can shut down an operator who is caught selling to anyone younger than 16.

The potential for children to be injured or start fires are two of the reasons county fire officials argue that all fireworks should be banned--even those deemed "safe and sane" by the state fire marshal.

Safe and sane is a designation that the state gives fireworks that in tests do not fly far through the air or emit large sparks.

Safe and sane fireworks are banned in the city of Los Angeles and unincorporated areas of the county and in more than half of the 87 other cities in the county.

Legal fireworks do their share of damage, officials say. County statistics show that legal and illegal fireworks were blamed for 249 injuries last year between mid-June and mid-July--the period fire officials say is rife with fireworks-related calls.

Of those injuries, 97 were from illegal fireworks, 82 were from legal fireworks and the rest were from an unknown type.

During the same four-week period in 1991, the most recent for which county statistics are available, 302 fires were caused by illegal fireworks, 235 by legal fireworks and 33 from those of an unknown type. Fireworks damage was estimated at $668,000.

Firework stand operators say fireworks are harmless when used as directed with adult supervision.

Moreover, supporters say, the right to sell, buy and use fireworks ensures that people can hold their own family Fourth of July celebrations, complete with pyrotechnics.

"The fireworks we sell help the local charities, but just as importantly they help bring about family togetherness," Pipher said. "As a peace officer I know the one thing we're missing today is family togetherness. You lose some of that family bond at the big commercial fireworks shows."

Over the past few years, citizens, council members and fire officials have unsuccessfully called for a ban on the use and sale of fireworks in Duarte, Azusa, Baldwin Park, City of Industry, Irwindale, La Puente, Rosemead, El Monte, South El Monte, Temple City, Alhambra and La Puente.

But many council members in those cities maintain that fireworks stands are important sources of funding for charities, with each stand raising $3,000 to $15,000 a year. Often the fireworks sales are the main revenue producer for the nonprofit organizations that run them.

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