Fireworks Safety: Don’t let home celebrations this Fourth of July turn to tragedy (or a fine)

July 1, 2020 | 6:00 am


As COVID-19 continues to spread locally and statewide regulations block public gatherings, officials are putting a halt to large fireworks shows this Fourth of July, leading many to celebrate at home.

And while lighting fireworks in your own yard might seem festive and fun, it’s important to celebrate our nation’s Independence safely, so your holiday doesn’t turn into tragedy.

In fact, about 11,000 people are treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries each year. And in the month surrounding July 4, our nation sees about 200 fireworks injuries per day, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Serious burns, eye injuries, and even death can occur. Injuries to people aside, fireworks start nearly 20,000 fires each year, including 1,300 structure fires and 300 vehicle fires.

“The fact is anyone close to fireworks is in danger. Fireworks can be unpredictable, and injuries can happen to anyone,” said David Cohn, managing partner at personal injury attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Please understand the dangers, and celebrate safely.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles offers the following safety tips to make sure your Fourth of July is as fun and safe as possible. For local celebration and safety information, please see below.

  • Never give fireworks to small children, or allow them to ignite fireworks.
  • Always have an adult supervise fireworks activities.
  • Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
  • Only use fireworks outdoors in a clear area, and away from buildings and vehicles.
  • Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully.
  • Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
  • Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
  • Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly.
  • Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.
  • After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding it to prevent a trash fire.
  • Never use fireworks while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
  • Never light them indoors.
  • Never use illegal fireworks.

If someone is injured by fireworks, here’s what you can do:

  • If an eye injury happens, don’t let the injured person touch or rub it, as this may cause even more damage. Don’t flush the eye out with water or try to put any ointment on it. Cut out the bottom of a paper cup, place it around the eye, and get medical care right away — eyesight may depend on it.
  • If someone suffers a burn, remove clothing from the burned area, and call your doctor immediately.
  • If someone is injured due to the negligence of someone else, please contact Chain | Cohn | Stiles immediately to receive legal assistance, be compensated for injuries suffered, and continue to get medical care in the future.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles in recent years has represented victims of fireworks accidents and other burn injury cases. In 2014 attorney David Cohn represented two men who suffered from severe injuries caused in a fireworks accident while attending a party on Fourth of July in west Bakersfield. The two men arrived at the party where party-goers were allegedly setting off illegal fireworks and explosives. A blast injured two people, and the case settled in 2018 for $2.3 million.

 

KERN COUNTY CELEBRATIONS

The city of Bakersfield canceled this year’s Fourth of July fireworks celebration at The Park at River Walk due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The city will broadcast a special Independence Day concert by the Bakersfield Municipal Band on multiple social media platforms. Other Kern County cities — including Shafter, Delano, Tehachapi, and McFarland — have also canceled its shows. Taft and Buttonwillow are continuing its shows with drive-in viewings.

Additionally, American Pyrotechnics Association announced fireworks sellers are expecting record sales this year because Americans may likely celebrate at home as public displays are canceled.

Local departments — including Bakersfield Fire, Kern County Fire, Bakersfield Police, and Kern County Sheriff’s Office — have joined forces to combat an increase in illegal fireworks activity locally.

Bakersfield Fire Department has started establishing teams of unmarked vehicles and fire engine companies to issue $1,500 citations to those violating fireworks laws. Residents are asked to report violations to kerncountyfire.org.

For more information about firework usage and fines, visit youlightitwewriteit.com.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

Turkey time: Get to know the dangers of using fryers for the holidays

November 20, 2014 | 10:06 am


Around the holidays in 2002, Richard Hernandez was heating the oil in his Brinkmann turkey fryer he bought from Walmart when it combusted, shooting bright red flames three feet into the air.

“The best way I can explain it is, it was an eruption like out of a volcano,” Hernandez told The Bakersfield Californian in 2004. “It just shot straight up in the air.”

Hernandez then sprayed the fire with an extinguisher, but it only fed the flames. He decided to carry the flaming pot away from the house, but the pot started to implode. The flaming hot oil burned Hernandez’s arms, legs and face.

A year after Hernandez’ incident, Steven Pendergrass, a Kern County Fire Department engineer and former paramedic was frying a turkey using a Brinkmann fryer on Christmas Day. When moisture in the turkey caused oil to boil out of the pot and catch fire, Pendergrass tried to push the pot away from his house, it tipped, spilling oil onto the ground. Pendergrass slipped and fell onto the oil, burning his arms, ankles, back and face.

Both men, represented by Bakersfield personal injury and burn injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles faced several surgeries to repair damaged skin, and dealt with unbearable pain and suffering. Attorney David Cohn helped settle Hernandez’ case against Brinkmann Corp. and Walmart for $2.15 million, while Cohn settled Pendergrass’ case for more than $2 million.

The lawsuits led companies to make changes in the design of the turkey fryers, including adding more legs to make them steadier and prevent tipping, adding automatic turn-off valves if the oil becomes too hot, and other safety fixes.

Still, burn injuries continue all too often with propane-fueled turkey fryers. In fact, more than 4,000 fires occur annually around Thanksgiving alone as people deep fry turkeys, bake pies and cook other foods, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

With the holidays around the corner, the Bakersfield personal injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, are reminding people about the dangers of turkey fryers, with tips provided by the Bakersfield and Kern County Fire Departments.

  • Turkey fryers should always be used outdoors at a safe distance from structures.
  • Never use fryers under patio covers, on wooden decks or in garages.
  • Use fryers on flat surfaces to reduce the possibility of accidental tipping.
  • Never leave the fryer unattended.
  • Keep children and pets away from the fryer at all times.
  • Do not overfill the fryer. This may result in a “spill-over” of hot oil.
  • Safety goggles and potholders or oven mitts should be used when utilizing the fryer.
  • Turkey must be completely thawed to avoid oil splattering and “boil-over.”
  • Turkey should be free of loose ice and water to avoid oil splattering and “boil-over.”
  • Choose a smaller turkey (10 to 12 pounds) to fry to reduce the potential for accidents.
  • Never use water to extinguish a grease fire; use an all-purpose fire extinguisher.

And if you are injured or burned throughout the holidays, call Chain | Cohn | Stiles at 661-323-4000, or visit the website Chainlaw.com for more information on the following:

Chain | Cohn | Stiles represents victims in explosive accident garnering media attention

August 6, 2014 | 12:00 pm


UPDATE: Arrests have been made in this case. See the news stories below for more information. 

Russell Lester and Bryan Walls were attending a party on Fourth of July in west Bakersfield, celebrating our nation’s independence and wedding reception. By the end of the night, they were in local hospitals.

The two arrived at the party where party-goers were allegedly setting off illegal fireworks and explosives. Lester and Walls were asked to hold the balloons while they were filled with acetylene gas, which is very unstable, highly flammable gas. The balloons were being taped to a pole when they exploded. It’s possible static electricity ignited them.

Four people were severely injured in the blast, including Lester and Walls. The two suffered burns to their face, chest and arms. Lester lost all the hearing in his right ear and partial hearing in his left ear, and lost peripheral vision in his left eye. Walls suffered hearing loss, too, and Lester’s burns were so severe that he was taken to a Fresno burn center. Others were taken to San Joaquin Community Hospital‘s Grossman Burn Center.

Bakersfield personal injury attorney David Cohn, with the law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, is representing Lester and Walls, who continue to receive medical treatment.

The incident has been covered by local media in recent days. The case was publicly revealed by KERO Channel-23 News on Aug. 4, a month after the actual accident.

Jim Trino, who allegedly was igniting the bombs, told KERO he was celebrating his wedding reception that night. He told KERO that he had been setting off legal and illegal fireworks for more than 30 years, including the acetylene bomb which he pumped the gas into balloons, hung on a metal pole in the middle of a field, and ignited.

The Kern County Sheriff’s Office and the Kern County Fire Arson unit are now investigating.

The Bakersfield Californian also covered the case, including an article by Californian columnist Lois Henry, who argues that local safety agencies failed to inform the public properly about the incident. She calls it “a communications and training failure, something that can only be fixed from the top down.”

To catch up on the news coverage, click the links below:

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The personal injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles are major proponents of fireworks safety and providing burn victims with world-class care. Go HERE for tips on celebrating the Fourth of July safely. And read about our $200,000 donation to the Grossman Burn Center at San Joaquin Community Hospital HERE.

If you’ve been burned in an accident, contact Chain | Cohn | Stiles immediately.

Law enforcement, local groups in full force this Fourth of July to prevent drunk driving

July 2, 2014 | 9:54 am


UPDATE: CCS Marketing Director and MADD Kern County board member Jorge Barrientos spoke with KERO-23 (ABC) News about driving sober and safe on the Fourth of July weekend. Watch the segment here.

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Fireworks, friends, flag-waving, food and family — those are usually the ingredients for a successful Fourth of July.

Many times, Independence Day festivities also include alcohol. The Bakersfield Police Department, MADD Kern County, and the Bakersfield personal injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles are reminding Kern County residents to celebrate safely this year and always.

As Bakersfield Police states, the holidays can quickly turn from festive to fatal when people choose to drink and drive. In fact, during the Fourth of July holiday period in 2012, 78 people in the United States were killed in alcohol-related crashes.

To crack down on drunk driving locally, Bakersfield law enforcement will be having its Avoid the 18 DUI Task Force in full force. MADD Kern County, too, is sharing some tips and statistics to celebrate the Fourth safely. And the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles also share some safety tips.

AVOID the 18

The Avoid the 18 DUI Task Force aggressively targets those who put lives in danger. That means every Kern County law enforcement agency is ramping enforcement this Fourth of July, according to Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson.

In short, those who drink and drive will be targeted for arrest in the “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign, which means zero tolerance for drunk driving.

The Task Force will also be deploying officers to DUI saturation patrols. The California Highway Patrol, for example, will be deploying all available officers onto freeways and county roads for its “Maximum Enforcement Period.”

The reason is because more than 10,000 people were killed in drunk-driving crashes in the United States in 2012, representing a third of all crash fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Fourth of July holiday period is especially deadly — there were 179 people killed in crashes in 2012, and 44 percent of those crashes were alcohol-related.

In every state, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent. According to FBI statistics, more than 1.28 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics in 2012. Data also shows that 46 percent of young drivers, ages 18 to 34, were drunk while driving in fatal crashes over the July 4th period in 2012.

Motorcycle drivers represented the highest percentage of alcohol impaired drivers in fatal crashes. In 2012, 27 percent of the motorcycle operators in fatal crashes had a BAC of .08 or higher.

Aside from putting your life and the lives of others at risk by drinking and driving, Kern County police remind, driving impaired can also lead to other serious consequences. A DUI arrest can mean time in jail, loss of your license, and steep financial expenses — the average DUI costs about $10,000.

Local law enforcement recommends these simple tips to prevent drunk driving:

  • Plan a safe way home before the fun begins.
  • Before drinking, designate a sober driver.
  • If you‘re impaired, use a taxi, call a sober friend or family member, or use public transportation.
  • Use Designated Driver of Bakersfield as a sober ride program.
  • If you happen to see a drunk driver on the road, don‘t hesitate to Call 9-1-1.
  • If you know someone who is about to drive or ride while impaired, take their keys and help them make other arrangements to get to where they are going safely.

MADD on Fourth of July

In anticipation of the Fourth of July holiday weekend — one of the deadliest holidays for drunk driving crashes — Uber Technologies and Mothers Against Drunk Driving launched #UberMADD, a national partnership designed to prevent drunk driving.

Uber, which connects passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire and ridesharing services, recently launched in Bakersfield, and so has its competitor Lyft. To kick off the #UberMADD campaign, Uber will donate $1 to MADD for every ride taken and $10 for every new rider in the United States between 6 a.m. on July 4 and 6 a.m. on July 5, when riders use the promotion code “UberMADD.”

MADD also urges adults to plan ahead for a non-drinking designated driver if Fourth of July plans include alcohol.

In addition to the dangers posed by drunk driving on roadways, the U.S. Coast Guard reports that alcohol was the leading factor in boating fatalities last year, contributing to 16 percent of boating deaths. Whether you’re in a car or on a boat, the dangers of drinking and driving are the same, MADD shared.

“Have a plan, designate a driver and pay attention out there,” said Carla Pearson, program coordinator and victim advocate for MADD Kern County. “It’s also important for sober drivers to pay attention to their surroundings, too. Look out for each other. We don’t need any more lives lost.”

As a reminder, MADD Kern County and Chain | Cohn | Stiles are partnering with local law enforcement and other groups in the first-ever “Walk-Run Like MADD” 5K walk and competitive run. It’s aimed to raise awareness in our own community, raise funds to stop drunken driving and underage drinking locally, and provide support to victims and survivors of drunk driving crashes.

For more information on the event, which will be held Sept. 20, read a previous blog post here, or visit the main event webpage here.

Fireworks Safety

Like driving, alcohol and fireworks also do not go together. Bakersfield safety officials here warn that if fireworks are not set off properly, the results could be devastating.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, with the help of Bakersfield Fire Department and Kern County Fire Department, has compiled several safety tips and advice for you and your pets this Independence Day.

Read them here.

And for media coverage regarding fireworks safety, read this article in The Bakersfield Californian.

How to avoid fire, injury on Fourth of July

June 27, 2014 | 8:46 am


It’s time to celebrate the red, white and blue — with fireworks, of course.

It’s a tradition — in Bakersfield and Kern County at least — to celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks. But safety officials here warn that if not set off properly, the results could be devastating. In fact, more U.S. fires are reported on Independence Day than on any other day, and fireworks account for two out of five of those fires, more than any other cause of fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Here are several safety tips to bring in Independence Day without a hitch, courtesy of the Bakersfield Fire Department and the Kern County Fire Department:

  • Purchase only California State Fire Marshal approved fireworks labeled “Safe and Sane.”
  • Supervise children around fireworks at all times. Only adults should use fireworks.
  • Only use fireworks outside and never light near dry grass or other flammable materials.
  •  Always read the directions and warning labels on fireworks. If a firework is not marked with the contents, direction and a warning label, do not light it.
  • Light fireworks one at a time and never modify, point, or throw them. Never carry fireworks in your pocket.
  • Never re-ignite malfunctioning fireworks or light ones that have loose fuses or leaking powder.
  • Make sure to have a bucket of water and a hose or fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Do not dispose of fireworks until they are completely cool.
  • Call 9-1-1 in an emergency.

In the last several years, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office has partnered with fire safety officials during the Fourth of July holiday period to enforce fireworks laws, issuing administrative citations for the following violations:

  • Use of legal fireworks outside of permitted times: $500
  • Illegal fireworks or modified legal fireworks: $1,500.
  • No fireworks are permitted in mountainous or wildland urban interface areas.

The local fire departments are asking for your help in tracking down those who use illegal fireworks. You can report those people by calling a tip-line: 661-868-6070.

The Bakersfield personal injury attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles also advise homeowners to be aware of the liability dangers for any illegal fireworks set off on their property, even if someone else set them off. It’s also important to keep in mind injuries that could happen when using fireworks.

Despite the dangers of fireworks, few people understand the associated risks that include devastating burns, fires and even death. For example, In 2011, fireworks caused an estimated 17,800 reported fires in the United States, including 1,200 total structure fires, 400 vehicle fires, and 16,300 outside and other fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. These fires resulted in an estimated eight reported deaths, 40 injuries and $32 million in direct property damage.

In 2012, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 8,700 people for fireworks related injuries — 55 percent of 2012 emergency room fireworks-related injuries were to the extremities and 31 percent were to the head, according to the association. The risk of fireworks injury was highest for young people ages 15 to 24, followed by children under 10.

If you are injured in a fireworks accident, visit these Frequently Asked Questions and answers for advice.

Last but not least, it’s important to keep in mind the safety of any pets around fireworks, which can be stressful and scary for our furry friends. The loud noises and flashing lights can cause pets a great deal of anxiety. Here are some more tips:

  • Do not take your pet to fireworks displays.
  • Do not leave your pet in the car. With only hot air to breathe inside a car, your pet can suffer serious health effects, even death, in a few short minutes. It is also against the law.
  • Keep your pets at home, indoors, in a sheltered, quiet area. Some animals can become destructive when frightened, so be sure that you have removed any items that your pet could destroy or that would be harmful to your pet if chewed or ingested. Leave a television or radio playing at normal volume to keep him/her company while you are away.
  • If you know that your pet is seriously distressed by loud noises, consult with your veterinarian before the holiday for ways to help alleviate the fear and anxiety he/she will experience during the fireworks display.
  • Never leave pets outside unattended, even in a fenced yard or on a chain. In their fear, pets who normally wouldn’t leave the yard, may escape and become lost, or become entangled in their chain, risking injury or even death.
  • Make sure your pets are wearing identification tags so that if they do become lost, they can be reunited promptly.
  • If you plan to go away for the holiday, make sure your pet is properly cared for by a neighbor, relative, or close friend. Make sure that your pet-sitter is aware of these precautions for the holiday as well.
  • If a pet is lost during the Fourth, owners can visit Kern County Animal Control or log onto the website for more information.

The staff and lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles wishes everyone a safe and happy Fourth of July.

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  • For a list of “Safe and Sane” fireworks on sale in Bakersfield and Kern County, including reviews, go here.
  • To find a fireworks show nearest to you, visit Kern Events here.
  • To find out more information on Bakersfield’s annual fireworks show, go here.