Utah fire board sets regulations for powerful 'cake' fireworks

Published: Tuesday, May 10 2011 7:02 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns wishing to buy newly legalized aerial fireworks will have to talk to a salesperson and accept safety information before purchasing them, according to new regulations set Tuesday by the Utah Fire Prevention Board.

Fire marshals from across the state, as well as representatives for fireworks manufacturers, spoke at the board's meeting about how the powerful aerial fireworks, which became legal Tuesday, known as "cakes" should be regulated.

Steve Foote, a representative for Phantom Fireworks, said consumers should be required to interact with an employee before purchasing the fireworks so they know what they're buying. Cake fireworks can reach heights of 150 feet — 10 times the previous Utah limit for aerial fireworks. 

Foote said his request is reasonable because "almost all retailers hire someone to pass out cheese and other snack foods on a weekly basis."

Board chairman Ted Black disagreed. He said it shouldn't be necessary to require contact with a store employee when buying cake fireworks when contact is not required to purchase other potentially dangerous substances like gas and ammunition.

"I don't think it's fair that we place an undue step on the public or an undue burden on the retailers," he said. 

The board voted on the side of caution. Any store, tent or stand selling cake fireworks will be required to have "person to person" contact before allowing customers to purchase the fireworks that can reach heights of up to 150 feet. Consumers will also be given safety information on how to properly use the fireworks. 

The committee also passed regulations that included a mandatory one-inch font for lettering on warning signs. Cake fireworks must be ignited at least 30 feet from any structures or aerial obstructions and at least 150 feet from any store or stand that sells fireworks.

The law that allows these fireworks — the result of a bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville — is one of many that goes into effect today. The bill was signed by Gov. Gary Herbert on May 4.

Dunnigan said permitting cake fireworks, ranging in price from $2 to $100, will keep Utahns and their money in the state. Legislative fiscal analysts have projected the sale of cake fireworks will bring the state $4,400 in tax revenue. 

Cake fireworks, which are designed to go up hot and come down cold, are "probably one of the best designed pieces of fireworks out there," according to a professional display operator who spoke at the meeting. 

"These are safe devices, but the people who buy them are not safe." That's why regulation during the first year is critical, he said.   

The board's precautions won't ensure safety, however, if people don't follow the rules.

"If you set them off under a tree, if you set them off under a carport, you're going to have problems," said state Fire Marshal Brent Halladay, who was officially sworn in during the meeting.

Another concern is the wet spring will result in fields or tall grasses, which will become fuel for wildfires in the dry summer heat.

Some wanted the regulations for purchasing cake fireworks to go further. Provo Fire Chief Blair Camp said that cake fireworks shouldn't be sold in retail locations unless they are in a separate area of the store.

In addition to allowing bigger aerial fireworks, the law moves the purchase date for fireworks from June 19 to June 26, with usage allowed from June 26 — rather than the current date of July 1 — until July 26. 

Explosive fireworks such as cherry bombs, bottle rockets, and roman candles are still illegal under the new law. 

E-mail: averzello@desnews.com

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