The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 29, 2013

Proposal wouldn’t allow fireworks indoors

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — Nothing in a proposal before West Virginia lawmakers would allow massive displays of fireworks indoors that sparked a nightclub tragedy in Brazil that left 231 dead, says the measure’s chief backer.

Last weekend a rock band set off a pyrotechnic machine that fans out colored sparks which triggered a fire that trapped mostly young patrons at the club known as Kiss in Santa Maria, Brazil.

For several years now, retired chemical engineer Clifford Rotz has attempted to convince state lawmakers to let private individuals buy and set off fireworks that normally are handled only by licensed pyrotechnics.

“My bill doesn’t change the current situation in which special effects fireworks are allowed to a very limited degree,” Rotz said Monday.

“So, it doesn’t change the situation. You very specifically couldn’t shoot off fireworks indoors, or from a building, or from a vehicle, or at a vehicle — that kind of thing.”

Rotz said special effects fireworks are permitted in this country during a rock concert or a similar venue.

“But again, that is handled by licensed professionals and there have to be special permits and various authorities having jurisdiction who inspect the venues to make sure that such situations are safe. My bill does nothing to legalize the shooting of fireworks within buildings. It doesn’t, however, change the fact that special effects fireworks are legal at rock concerts and things like that.”

Rotz said pyrotechnic special effects are considered close-quarters displays that aren’t regarded s fireworks.

“Special effects operators are professionally licensed, and each display requires a permit,” he said.

“The materials used are separately classified and unavailable to the public. The National Fire Protection Association, the organization responsible for the National Electrical Code, has a specific safety code covering special effects. This code is separate from display fireworks or consumer fireworks.”

On occasion, Rotz noted, one sees a small amount of fireworks touched off inside a large building to introduce the arrival of a band on stage.

Yet, there is no comparison with the gigantic displays one sees now at outdoor gatherings such as on the Fourth of July, he said.

“Special effects are a completely separate branch of fireworks,” he said.

“They’re not even called fireworks, although they are pyrotechnic devices. They are shot off in close quarters, so to speak. But they’ve been legal in this country for decades and have been used safely, and they will continue to be used safely.”

Rotz has been the prime mover of legislation that would permit the use of more potent fireworks in West Virginia.

His bill would allow residents to buy and set off rockets, Roman candles, shells, and firecrackers and multiple combinations of the four, known in the industry as “cakes.” The ban on M-80s and cherry bombs would remain in force.

Lawmakers in 1995 authorized the sale of feeble ones known as “sparkling devices,” but over the years, some lawmakers have sought to expand the range to embrace the louder, more spectacular variety. At last count, 21 states have legalized the more potent type.

A year ago, the House Government Organization recommended passage of the Rotz-backed bill but it never reached the floor for a vote. Rotz expects similar legislation to be introduced in the coming months.

Last year’s proposal would have imposed not only the customary 6 percent sales tax but a 10 percent safety fee with proceeds divided between the state fire marshal’s office and volunteer departments.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com