June 24, 2012

Ready, set, boom: Fireworks sales in Wichita area start Wednesday

Jacob Marietta has been preparing for this week all year.

Jacob Marietta has been preparing for this week all year.

His company, Wholesale Fireworks, will be selling bottle rockets, firecrackers and Roman candles — among other things — in more than 200 locations in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri and Louisiana.

The fireworks season is opening in the Wichita area: Wednesday to July 5 for buying. Fireworks tents already are sprouting across Sedgwick County. Fireworks may be set off from Wednesday through July 5 in Wichita; other cities in the Wichita area have their own guidelines.

During the year, Marietta or someone from his company goes every month to their office in China, where they buy and try out new products. They have been working with chemical engineers from China to come up with colors that will burn longer and brighter. Sometimes, it might take a couple of years to test and adjust a new product.

“We need to make sure it’s perfect before it hits the market,” Marietta said.

And then there’s the organizing part.

Fireworks sellers need to find locations, set up tents and employ people and nonprofits to sell the merchandise. Wholesale Fireworks will employ about 1,000 people for the week leading up to July 4, Marietta said.

One thing that could make all their efforts futile is the heat. Tom Wilcox, owner of Creative Magic Fireworks, a seller based in Wichita, is concerned about a possible ban on fireworks because of the hot, dry weather.

“Hopefully, we’ll get a little bit of rain,” Wilcox said. “Moisture is always great. It makes it a lot easier because nobody wants to have a field caught on fire (by) fireworks.”

Inside, outside city limits

In addition to setting up fireworks tents in Wichita, sellers also will set up tents outside the Wichita city limits, in places such as Andover, Derby and Haysville. There, they can sell more powerful, more spectacular fireworks.

The fireworks allowed in Wichita can emit a shower of sparks no farther than 6 feet in any direction, according to city guidelines. Any rockets mounted on a wire or stick are prohibited throughout Sedgwick County.

Among the fireworks that Wichitans can use in the city without breaking the law are sparklers, very small fountains and crackling balls — quieter versions of firecrackers, Wilcox said.

But those are not the fireworks people get crazy about.

“People love the things that shoot up in the air,” said Ian Ross, owner of TLC Services, a fireworks seller based in Wichita. “Artillery shows are always a good hit, and everyone loves Black Cats,” a brand of firecrackers.

The most popular firework product, sellers agree, is probably the 500 Gram Cake — a combination of shots that go up in the air and explode into a multitude of stars of different shapes and colors. The 500 Gram Cake is the most powerful product that can be sold legally and the closest you can get to a professional fireworks show, Marietta said.

An average family spends a couple hundred dollars on Fourth of July fireworks, sellers estimate. The sum can go as low as $10 or $15 for tighter family budgets and as high as $3,000 in the case of block parties, where people pool their money.

The downside

One thing that accompanies fireworks season is the risk of accidents.

Last year, the Wichita Fire Department received four fireworks-related fire calls, said Fire Marshal Brad Crisp. The material damage was estimated at $118,000 — about $15,000 higher than in 2010.

Seventy people sought medical emergency care last year for firework-related injuries. The youngest was 19 months old and the oldest was 77. That’s twice as many as in 2010, when 33 people called 911 for injuries caused by fireworks.

Of those who sought emergency care last year, 24 people came to Via Christi, said John Ruder, burn program coordinator. They had hand, arm, face and neck burns caused by sparklers and exploding fireworks, he said.

Ten patients went to Wesley Medical Center, said Susan Burchill, marketing and media relations specialist at the hospital.

The leading causes for accidents were illegal fireworks — mortar shells, firecrackers and Roman candles, all of which are banned within Wichita city limits, Crisp said.

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