2 Maui children hospitalized with burns from fireworks explosion
By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Staff Writer
WAILUKU, Maui — Two children are recovering in a Honolulu hospital after they were seriously burned in a New Year's Eve fireworks explosion on Maui.
An 11-year-old boy and his 7-year-old sister were injured when they were playing with fireworks in the bed of the family's pickup truck at their home on Pu'uloa Street in Lower Waiehu, police said. Both were reported in critical condition when they were flown Friday to Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women & Children in Honolulu.
Their 5-year-old brother was burned on his right leg and is recovering at home.
Their injuries are the most serious reported cases from last week's New Year's observance, and came as lawmakers and public safety officials renewed a call for a complete ban on fireworks.
Members of the family involved in the incident declined to comment yesterday, except to say the two older children are "doing OK."
Police classified the incident as a "miscellaneous accident," and no charges are expected to be filed, according to Capt. Jody Singsak, commander of the Wailuku Patrol District.
A Maui Fire Department crew responded to the emergency call about the explosion but no further action was taken, said Fire Prevention Bureau Capt. Paul Haake.
The incident occurred moments after midnight New Year's Eve. Details of the event are sketchy because "it happened so fast," Maui Fire Battalion Chief Val Martin said.
Witnesses told police they heard a loud boom and that all of the fireworks in the truck bed ignited. Martin said firefighters found "a terrible scene" when they arrived. The youngsters' clothing had caught on fire and the lower half of the girl's body was severely burned, he said.
"It was a very bad burn. It didn't look good," he said.
The 11-year-old boy may have been burned while trying to pull his sister to safety, Martin said.
Both children were taken by ambulance to Maui Memorial Medical Center before being transferred to Kapi'olani.
Singsak said patrol officers found several homemade fireworks at the scene, including aluminum cans that were duct-taped together.
The state's Fireworks Control Law requires children to be "under the immediate supervision and control" of an adult while setting off consumer fireworks. The penalty is a $2,000 fine for each violation.
The law also says that anyone who removes the combustible or explosive component of fireworks and uses it to construct fireworks or other pyrotechnic devices shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports there were 7,000 fireworks-related injuries and seven deaths in 2008. Three of the deaths involved homemade fireworks.
Forty percent of the injuries involved children under the age of 14, the agency said.
The safety commission recommends that children never be allowed to play with or ignite fireworks, but that advice is roundly ignored in Hawai'i, where fireworks are a long-standing tradition with roots in cultural practices.
Martin joined fire officials across the nation in calling for a total ban on fireworks and said the reasons given in Hawai'i for allowing them are no longer valid.
"Those cultural aspects are long gone now. It's just a war zone," he said.
In the meantime, "it's the old common-sense recommendations to make sure children are supervised, do not take apart fireworks, use fireworks as the directions say, and just be careful because what you are doing is playing with fire," Martin said.
The debate over whether additional restrictions on fireworks are needed is expected to be reignited during the upcoming legislative session.
State Rep. Faye Hanohano, D-4 (Puna-Pähoa), yesterday said she will continue to push for passage of three fireworks-related bills carried over from the 2009 session.
Hanohano is chairwoman of the House Committee on Public Safety.
A conference draft for Senate Bill 1060 would establish a task force to study the most effective ways to stop the importation of illegal fireworks into the state.
House Bill 397 would assess a surcharge tax on the sale of consumer fireworks. The proposal also would require retailers to report on fireworks sold and the Department of Health to report on the effects of fireworks on young children.
House Bill 398 allows counties to enact ordinances regulating fireworks more restrictive than state laws.