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Prince William County kicks off Safe Summer Cookout, Fireworks campaign

Within 36 seconds of being lighted, a grill next to a structure with vinyl siding began to melt the siding. In less than a minute, the structure was burning.

If the charred siding had been a home, rather than a prop designed by the Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue, the flames would have quickly spread, damaging or destroying it, said Robert Wall, public education coordinator for the department.

The burned display, illustrating the dangers of grilling too close to a building, was part of the Safe Summer Cookout and Fireworks campaign kickoff hosted by the department Thursday at G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge.

Memorial Day marks the traditional beginning of summer, and grilling season. Beginning Saturday, fireworks booths will pop up across the region in anticipation of the Fourth of July.

With two separate but coordinated campaigns, fire officials from Northern Virginia and Maryland are hoping to raise awareness of safety issues associated with grilling and fireworks and “eliminate the potential for anyone getting hurt,” Battalion Chief Curtis Brodie said.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments fire chiefs have a goal of zero injuries and deaths from grilling and fireworks, Richard Bowers, Fairfax County fire and rescue chief, said.

In 2011, more than 16,000 people were treated at emergency rooms for injuries related to grilling, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

“It’s never too early to prevent an injury or death,” Bowers, who is also COG fire chief committee chair, said.

The safe grilling campaign, “The Thrill of the Grill — Don’t Let It Burn You,” focuses on practices such as properly disposing of charcoal, never leaving a grill unattended, keeping a grill at least 15 feet from any structure and properly maintaining gas grills.

The fire association says that 83 percent of fireworks-related injuries treated in emergency rooms are caused by legal fireworks that meet federal regulations. In other words, fireworks users are the problem. This year’s campaign urges residents to “leave fireworks to the professionals.”

In addition to the professional fireworks shows in the county July 4, Brodie suggested coming out for a Potomac Nationals game. Most Saturday-night games are followed by a fireworks display.

If residents do buy legal fireworks, Brodie emphasized using and disposing of them safely. Even sparklers should be placed in a metal can after they’ve been extinguished, he said.

County fire and police officials will be cracking down on illegal fireworks with surveillance and stringent enforcement throughout the season. In Virginia, using illegal fireworks is a Class 1 misdemeanor carrying a maximum of a one year jail sentence and a $2,500 fine.

The campaigns are a “means to eliminate the community threat and prevent a 911 call,” Brodie said.


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