Be careful near fireworks, expert warns

By Amy McGillivray


Five years after a firework flew into her pram and exploded, six-year-old Mercedez Harrison is still frightened by loud noises.

"She's not as bad. She still jumps at popping balloons. She freaks out still," mother Polly Anne Tonihi said.

Mercedez, who was one at the time, was sitting at the top of the family's Welcome Bay driveway in her pushchair happily clapping and laughing as her family lit their fireworks when the nasty accident happened.

A 48-shot firework called Colour Pearl was lit and started to shoot "flaming balls" sideways instead of up.

One landed in the back of the pram behind Mercedez's back and exploded. The explosion caught the back of Mercedez's nappy on fire and ignited her top and her blanket.

She suffered burns to seven per cent of her body - the worst on her upper back and buttock.

Since then Mercedez has made a full recovery and now only has a small scar to show from it.

After the accident on November 6, 2007, Ms Tonihi vowed she would never celebrate Guy Fawkes again and she has stuck by her promise.

Mercedez and her family have not gone near fireworks since and have no plans to do so in future.

Ms Tonihi said Mercedez knew about the accident which caused the scar on her back and has never asked to celebrate the day.

"She hasn't yet but I would just tell her it's because it hurt her," she said.

After the accident, which made headlines around the country, Ms Tonihi led calls for the public sale of fireworks to be banned.

"I still think it's a sensible move," she told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.

But Ms Tonihi is realistic about the chances of the government imposing such a ban.

"I think the only thing that might help them make a change is that more little kids get hurt. They are waiting for numbers basically and I think that's probably going to be the only way that they will see that these things are dangerous."

In 2009, a man suffered serious facial injuries, including to his eyes and mouth, after a home-made sparkler bomb exploded in his face.

The same year, a sheep was tortured on Mauao, and three teens taken to court over the incident were accused of blowing off the animal's jaw with fireworks, although the charge of animal cruelty was later dropped.

Fire Risk management officer for Bay of Plenty Coast, John Rewi, said their message for the public was to be "bloody careful" but he believed the public were heeding safety messages.

"I think people are being a bit more responsible."

However, excitement could lead people to forget simple precautions, he said.

Plunket's national child safety adviser Sue Campbell said children often copied adults and it was important to keep all fire hazards out of reach of children. Adults needed to supervise their children at all times.

Fireworks remain on sale today and tomorrow only.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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