Mishap Injures 4 Employees of Iowa Fireworks Firm

July 10, 2012

A tube of fireworks ignited prematurely during a Fourth of July display in southeastern Iowa, creating sparks that detonated other fireworks waiting to be lit and injuring four event employees, authorities said Thursday.

The accident happened shortly after 10 p.m. Wednesday, about five minutes into West Burlington’s annual fireworks show put on by J & M Displays, a Yarmouth, Iowa-based company that hosts similar events throughout the region, City Administrator Dan Gifford said.

The fireworks ignited and burned one or more of the workers, and apparently injured others as they ran for cover, he said.

Gifford said the crowd of more than 1,000 gathered in West Burlington’s downtown saw an explosion that looked closer to the ground than normal. Soon, he said, local fire departments were responding to the area where J & M Displays employees light off the fireworks on vacant land owned by a Burlington railroad.

“It was pretty evident that something went wrong. The crowd went silent,” he said. “Some of our firefighters were in the crowd, and they went sprinting toward the fire station. People seemed to know that it was an issue. I was quite impressed with the way people reacted.”

One of the employees was taken by ambulance to the hospital for treatment. Three other workers initially declined treatment, but two of them later went to the emergency room.

Burlington Fire Marshal Mark Crooks said all three of the hospitalized workers were released by Thursday morning, and that all of their injuries were minor. He said an investigation into the accident by the state fire marshal’s office was ongoing but that it does not appear the company did anything wrong.

“It’s just one of those freak deals where they had a mortar that just prematurely exploded. From what I can see right now, the employees did what they were trained to do,” he said.

He said a 4-inch mortar exploded too close to the ground after leaving its launch tube and created sparks and ash that caused mortars stored in two other locations to ignite and launch.

Gifford called the accident unfortunate but added that fireworks are inherently dangerous. He said the city paid J & M Displays $7,500 for the show, and he said he would worry about whether to seek a refund later.

J & M Displays, which calls itself one of the largest fireworks suppliers in the Midwest, declined comment.

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