Ensuring Hallowe’en fun doesn’t end in tragedy

Fireworks and bonfires will endanger children’s safety over the next week. Irish Examiner reporters look at the measures being taken to prevent accidents.

LIMERICK gardaí have already taken a huge amount of bang out of Hallowe’en revelry in the city.

Thousands of euro worth of bangers, crackers, and firework rockets were confiscated in a raid at a city industrial park.

Other smaller quantities of firework devices were found in several other locations.

However, gardaí, the fire and ambulance services are on heightened alert.

Limerick fire station officer Don McCarthy said that bonfires are not a traditional part of Hallowe’en in Limerick.

“Unlike other places such as Cork and Dublin, bonfire night in Limerick is on May eve - the last night of April. We have a huge amount of call outs on that night,” he said.

He said that on Hallowe’en they have to deal with letter box fires caused by crackers being shoved in the front door of houses.

“This causes distress to elderly people, but rarely causes much damage,” said Officer McCarthy.

Gardaí will have extra street patrols out over Hallowe’en.

And they warn that possession of bangers are illegal.

“Young people can have fun at Hallowe’en without leaving off these bangers. They cause enormous distress to the elderly and young children,” said a garda spokesman.

Firefighters in the seven stations throughout north Tipperary will be on full standby this Hallowe’en, following the trouble they had to deal with last year.

In one case in 2003 a fire brigade member was hit with a brush when he and the rest of his crew moved in to put out a massive bonfire that had been set alight close to the Nenagh Manor Nursing Home.

Firefighters were worried the fire in Annbrook could spread to the home and put the lives of elderly residents in danger. However, they were subjected to intimidation by people who had gathered around the fire when they went to put it out.

North Tipperary’s Chief Fire Officer David Carroll said: “Frequently drink is now involved and the attitude towards firefighters is more aggressive.”

Now it is now standard practice for gardaí to accompany firefighting crews on all callouts to bonfires, Mr Carroll said.

The Mayor of the county, John Hogan has called on the gardaí and the county council to clamp down on Hallowe’en high jinks, recalling that elderly residents in a local authority housing estate in Sheehane, Roscrea, were terrified last year after firecrackers were put in the doors of their letter boxes.

South Tipperary County Council has warned of the poisonous hazards of standing around bonfires. Fumes containing arsenic and cancer-causing dioxins are some of the deadly poisons people are likely to inhale while gathered around bonfires, said Abbey McSherry, the council’s public awareness officer.

She says people are inhaling “a heady cocktail of lethal gases” from tyres, chemically treated wood and foam from furniture.

The result can be a decrease in blood cell counts, abnormal heart function, blood vessel damage, liver and kidney damage and impaired nerve function.

She warned that anyone who is found breaking the law in relation to burning will be prosecuted.

She warned people could face fines of up to €3,000 if prosecuted.

WITH children as young as 10 believed to be in possession of fireworks ahead of the Hallowe’en celebrations, gardaí in Waterford have warned parents to be vigilant.

“All fireworks are illegal, but young people have to access money to pay for them,” Sgt John McDonald of the city garda station said.

A number of seizures from young people have been made by gardaí in the last week, and four warrants have been issued in connection with the sale and supply of fireworks.

More worrying, however, is the use of fireworks to terrify elderly residents and animals. Property has been damaged when young people have put fireworks into letterboxes. Gardaí warn such pranks could lead to injury or even death. “We’re not intending to dampen the spirit of festivities that go on at Hallowe’en, but if someone is injured or killed as a result of this behaviour we will be treating it as a very serious criminal offence,” Sgt McDonald warned.

Gardaí have been inundated with complaints about the use of fireworks in the last week. “We’ve gangs of kids roaming around causing mayhem and the people who should be looking after them are not doing so,” Sgt McDonald added.

The SEHB could not confirm the numbers injured from fireworks last year. Burns and other injuries are common, they warned.

Last year, the Cork County Fire Department had seven call-outs to bonfires which had gone out of control.

They dealt with incidents in Cobh, Kanturk, Ballincollig and Fermoy. However, they were also called to three different incidents in Charleville.

Extra personnel are not on duty to deal with bonfires because the county’s 220 firefighters are all part-time.

Hundreds of fireworks were seized last week at a car boot sale in the village of Rathcormac, in north Cork.

“People should realise that fireworks can be very dangerous. People can easily get their fingers blown off,” a senior garda spokesman said.

But assistant city chief fire officer Seamus Coughlan said: “Traditionally, we don’t have problems with bonfires and fireworks on Hallowe’en night.”

THE fire service is Kerry is preparing for a busy Hallowe’en after 10 fire brigade call-outs in Tralee alone last year.

“Where bonfires are lit, children should be properly supervised by a responsible adult,” advised Kerry assistant chief fire officer Donal Guerin. “They should also take into account where the fires are and make sure that there are no high tension cables, or other cables, overhead.

“Hallowe’en has become a busy time for us and, when we’re called out to deal with these fires, people should always bear in mind there could be a more serious fire to be dealt with elsewhere,” he added.

Hallowe’en seems to have come earlier than usual to Kerry, with fireworks and loud bangers regularly going off in towns throughout the county in recent weeks.

Gardaí have appealed to parents to ensure children don’t buy what are described as dangerous and illegal devices, which can be purchased for around €20 per batch. “People have lost fingers and eyes because of them,” said Inspector Martin McCarthy of Tralee.

In spite of most people being vigilant in relation to bonfires, the Fire Service and Clare Co Council’s Environment Section yesterday issued a directive to the public on the lighting of bonfires. The agencies have asked people not to position bonfires under or near overground cables; that bonfires should be built at least 60 feet away from houses, sheds, trees, hedges and fences and that ideally the organisers should have the consent of neighbours as regards the site of the bonfire.

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