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Farmington fire chief gives advice on staying safe this Fourth of July

Want to have a fun, safe Fourth of July celebration this week? Just use a little common sense.

That's the advice from Farmington fire chief Tim Pietsch, who has seen more than one holiday gathering take an unfortunate turn, thanks to someone -- or something -- being burned.

First and foremost, Pietsch recommends that anyone who buys fireworks limit themselves to the kind that are legal in Minnesota. Even though Wisconsin is close and retailers there offer more of a selection, many of those fireworks are not legal here.

But even the legal ones -- the sparklers and so on -- should be handled with care, he said.

"You've got to worry about injuries, even with legal fireworks. We still recommend parental supervision if young kids are playing with sparklers. They can get second- and third degree burns if not properly supervised," Pietsch said. "As a kid, I did it once. I burned my hand, my fingertips, and I never did it again."

Pietsch recommends using fireworks only on the driveway or on concrete areas, as sparks can ignite grass, shrubs or a wooden deck. Wear shoes, too, because stepping on hot sparkler wands or other remnants can cause burns.

His words are not without experience. Farmington firefighters have responded on a mutual aid call to a house fire in Lakeville that was caused by fireworks landing on a roof. Another time, the fire/rescue unit was called out because a child had been hit by a bottle rocket.

"Do them in a safe place, and make sure there is parental supervision," Pietsch said. "It can happen."

Not all Fourth of July accidents come by way of fireworks. Grills or recreational bonfires also have the potential to cause problems.

"The reason I bring (grilling) up is because we've had a couple of calls this year," he said.

Gas grills have a grease tray underneath, and in some instances, the grease wasn't drained. It got too hot and caused a fire. Unsupervised grills can also be a problem, he said.

Gas grills can be placed on patio decks, but charcoal grills should not be unless the deck has a protective shield in place between the grill and the structure.

"Make sure the grill is out in the open," Pietsch said. "We've had calls for people who brought the charcoal grills into the garages, so barbecuing safety is right up there, too."

While the city of Farmington allows recreational fires, city ordinance calls for those fires to be put out by 10 p.m. And they should not be left unattended, Pietsch added.

When it comes to preventing accidents during the Fourth of July, or any night during the summer, "a lot of it is just common sense," Pietsch said. "Everybody loves to have fun during the holidays. That's understandable. But this is pretty basic stuff."

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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