COLUMBUS -- Patricia Holsinger's parents died in a house fire the night after Independence Day in 2014.
Leo and Betty Sayre, ages 78 and 76 respectively, had lived in their Lawrence County home for nearly half a century when a consumer firework landed on the roof and sparked the blaze. Leo Sayre attempted, with a neighbor, to extinguish the fire before heading back inside to attempt to rescue his bed-ridden wife, Holsinger said.
Neither made it out alive.
"I would not want anyone to go through this devastating tragedy and hope that you realize that (your 'no' vote) can prevent this from happening in Ohio to a lot of folks," Holsinger told lawmakers Wednesday, urging opposition to a bill that would legalize the use of bottle rockets, roman candles and other consumer fireworks.
She added in testimony, "Fireworks are explosives and should be handled by someone trained in this field. Please leave this matter to the professionals that put on beautiful shows to celebrate this country's freedoms."
Holsinger offered her comments before the Ohio House's Government Accountability and Oversight Committee Wednesday as part of consideration of HB 226, which calls for the creation of a fireworks study group to review state law and make recommendations for changes.
Absent enactment of the latter, the provisions of an earlier bill would take effect, ending the state's ban on consumers' use of fire crackers and other fireworks within the state's borders in mid-2020.
Such fireworks can be purchased in Ohio by anyone 18 or older, but they cannot be used in the state. Instead, they must be taken over the state's borders within 48 hours of purchase.
SB 226 also includes provisions requiring fireworks sellers to provide safety glasses and pamphlets to consumers. Jeff Klein, fire chief for the city of Perrysburg and president of the Ohio Fire Chiefs' Association, spokes as a proponent of the legislation Wednesday, in part because of the education requirements.
"As fireworks have been illegal in Ohio, there has not been a statewide campaign to educate the public on safe practices," he said. "HB 226 mandates the state fire marshal create safety materials to educate Ohioans about the proper use of consumer fireworks ... You will hear testimony about injuries associated with the use of fireworks. These injuries are occurring under current laws and regulations. It is our position HB 226 can decrease injuries by allowing the fireworks industry and public safety forces to educate the public how best to protect them, and their loved ones."
But most of those offering testimony Wednesday opposed the legislation, voicing concern about residents' health and safety.
Sarah Denny, an emergency room physician who spoke on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said fireworks caused about 11,900 injuries treated in emergency rooms in 2015, up from 10,500 in 2014. Nearly half of those injured were bystanders not involved in discharging the fireworks, she said.
Sherill Williams, president of Prevent Blindness' Ohio Affiliate, added, "... We recognize that the law is often ignored and that the current statute does nothing to promote safety and education. However, as advocates for safety and public health, we believe the repeal of the current law sends the wrong message to Ohioans and will lead to an increase in fireworks discharge, property damage and injury to both individuals igniting the fireworks and individuals minding their own business."
Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), a primary co-sponsor of the bipartisan legislation, countered that HB 226 would enable communities to bar local use and that Ohio's border states already allow fireworks.
"Frankly, we would be far more restrictive under this bill than many of our neighboring states ..." he said.
He also questioned how fireworks-related injury rates compared to rates for injuries stemming from the use of cars, guns, tobacco or alcohol -- all substances that are legal in Ohio.
Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for GateHouse Media. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.