Fireworks bring fun and business dollars to St. Charles County along with requiring some extra care to ensure a safe holiday
By Brett Auten
From the frantic electronic store clerk on Black Friday to the harried floral designer on Valentine’s Day; Chris Sander can relate. His livelihood too is dependent on a few fervent weeks every year.
Sander is the President of Powder Monkey Fireworks Inc. located at 5130 Westwood Dr. in Weldon Spring. From June 20 through July 5, he and his team cater to every minor and major whim for those who like to make things go flash, boom and bang in and around the Fourth of July holiday.
From morning until well into the night, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., every day during the stretch, his tent – with enough square footage to match that of any strip mall store – is filled with Black Cats, Roman candles, fountains and tons more.
“It’s the same as any seasonal job except it is outside, in the heat and in a tent,” he said. “There are a lot of backyard shows. Customers will buy one pack of snaps or a whole trailer full.”
Sander, who lives in St. Peters, has been in the retail end of the fireworks season since he was 14. The former Hazelwood resident worked at Fireworks City for eight years before heading to the University of Missouri to study business. He invests in annual trips to China to meet with vendors and to get a gauge on the market.
“We will visit factories to see what new items they are making,” Sander said. “You also get to see what is selling in other countries.”
Sander keeps up to 30 employees in and out over the 15-day spread and a tent that has upwards to 600 items. He estimates that the average customer spends $80 to $100.
It takes multiple permits to get a fireworks stand up and running. Because ideal locations are difficult to track down, often already established businesses will supplement with a tent or two. Though a full-time job for Sander, that is usually not the case.
“Some (vendors) will use a week or two of vacation to make a little extra money,” he said.
As you see these familiar tents along the highway exits, it comes with regulations and cautionary tips.
According to the county’s firework ordinance, letting off fireworks is limited to between the hours of 10 a.m. and 11 p.m. on July 2-5 of any year and between the hours of 11:30 p.m. on December 31 and 12:30 a.m. on the immediately following January 1. It is unlawful for any person to willfully set off, use, burn, explode or fire off any firecrackers, fireworks, torpedoes, bombs, pin wheels, fire balloons, Roman candles, toy cannons, toy pistols, missile or aerial fireworks containing a stick or fin, or other fireworks containing a stick or fin, or other fireworks of a like kind within unincorporated St. Charles County. This does not apply to parks or other public places when in the charge of competent persons and under a permit issued by the St. Charles County Department of Community Development. Those 15-years-old and younger cannot discharge fireworks except under the supervision of an adult, where the adult is within sight and sound of the children during the discharge of the fireworks.
When in doubt, residents of incorporated municipalities should contact their respective police department for fireworks regulations.
From the safety aspect, Karen O’Neill is a Battalion Chief with the St. Charles County Ambulance District. With 25 years of experience, O’Neill has seen a little bit of everything around one of their busier holidays of the year.
“There was one gentleman, who had no idea how it got lit, but had a cherry bomb that went off in his front pocket,” O’Neill said. “It left a pretty significant injury plus his pants caught on fire and left burns on his leg.”
According to National Fire Protection Association’s data, nationally, emergency rooms see more than 10,000 people annually for fireworks-related injuries with the vast majority of these occurring between mid-June and mid-July. Burns are the most common type of injury, accounting for 54-percent of the cases. Lacerations/contusions account for 17 percent, fractures/sprains account for nine percent, and the remaining 23 percent are classified as ‘other.’ Not surprisingly, the areas of the body most affected by said injuries are fingers/hands, and eyes/face. Hand/finger injuries account for 36 percent of cases, eye comes in at 19-percent, and head/face is reported at 19-percent also, according to NFPA.
O’Neill suggests that if a firework, regardless of type, fails to ignite, do not try to re-light it and there are recipes aplenty on the internet to construct homemade fireworks, but carrying these out these our can be extremely dangerous.
Sparklers are often viewed as a firework suited for children, but NFPA’s 2014 report showed they accounted for the most injuries.
“Sparklers can burn at over 1,000 degrees and are still very hot even after they go out,” O’Neill said. “We have had children step on them and get burned. It’s always best to put the sticks out in a bucket.”
You also need to be aware of where these things can land. Skip Stephens is an Assistant Chief with the Cottleville Fire Protection District who has 18 years of experience.
“There are combustible things all around us,” Stephens said. “From mulch and landscape and so much plastic.
Stephens told of not only a mulch fire that led to some significant burns on the siding of a house but also a vehicular fire.
“We got a call, it was a Chevy S-10 that was fully involved, with 10-foot flames coming from the passenger side,” Stephens said. “It was a hot summer night, and they had left the windows down, and a bottle rocket landed in the cab and caught the interior on fire.”
CUTLINE: Photo by Brett Auten Chris Sander is the President of Powder Monkey Fireworks Inc. located at 5130 Westwood Dr. in Weldon Spring and is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day thru July 5.