Stay safe this Independence Day

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OKEECHOBEE — After spending the majority of the past few months in our own homes, most of us are ready for a little freedom, and what better way to celebrate freedom than with fireworks?

On April 8, 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new law making it legal to buy and use fireworks on the Fourth of July, New Years Eve and New Years Day. Prior to the signing of this law, Floridians were required to sign an affidavit swearing they would use their fireworks for agricultural purposes only — for fishing or to frighten birds away, etc. Purchases of fireworks at any other times will still be allowed only for agricultural purposes, but on those three holidays, they can be purchased, just for the sheer joy of shooting off a bottle rocket!

Capt. Ryan Hathaway of Okeechobee County Fire Rescue has some suggestions to ensure that your celebration is as safe as possible:

  1. Never allow children to play with or ignite fireworks.
  2. Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully.
  3. Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose nearny in case of a fire.
  4. Light fireworks one at a time and then move away quickly.
  5. NEVER HOLD FIREWORKS OR MORTAR TUBES!

Maj. Donald Hagan of the Okeechobee City Police Department said most people are understanding when it comes to the actual day of celebration — Fourth of July, New Year’s Day, New Year’s Eve. The problem comes in when that celebration extends beyond one day. People like to stretch it out for several days before and/or several days after.

“That’s when the complaints start coming in,” he said. A lot of pets are terrified of the noises made by the fireworks and have to be medicated in advance. The pet owners know this and take precautions on the holidays, but when people take advantage of the situation and set off fireworks for days on end, the pet owners have no way to combat this. This is when they start calling to complain. So please be courteous and responsible with your firework use, he said.

If you’d like to leave the fireworks to the experts, there will be a display by the Fraternal Order of Police at the Agri-Civic Center beginning at 9 p.m. on July 4. Other events related to the annual Independence Day celebration may or may not be possible this year, and it all depends on the COVID numbers.

“We don’t want to contribute to anyone getting sick,” said Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Michael Hazellief. “We are trying to make a responsible decision, so are waiting until as close as possible to the date to see if our numbers start going back down again.”

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