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Officials urge safety in celebrating Independence Day

By Staff | Jul 2, 2020

Despite Independence Day celebrations being cancelled throughout the area, residents are encouraged to practice safe behavior that would apply not just in a year with a pandemic.

Whether you’re hosting a cookout, taking to the water, lighting fireworks or consuming alcohol, officials urge safety to protect yourself and others.

Boating

In Southwest Florida, boating has been a great way to social distance from others while enjoying open waters. It’s also a popular recreation activity on the 4th of July. As the country continues to combat COVID-19, the boating community is encouraged to practice responsible practices on a holiday that will see waters even more populated than usual.

“The July 4 holiday is around the corner, and unfortunately has become known for drinking and boating, and deadly accidents,” said Peg Phillips, executive director of the National Safe Boating Council, and lead organization for the Safe Boating Campaign, in a release. “Operating a boat — or even being a passenger — is incredibly risky while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Drunken passengers can easily fall overboard, swim near the propeller, lean over the side, or stand up in small boats causing the boat to capsize.”

With events such as Cape Coral’s Red, White & BOOM! extravaganza put on the shelf until later this year (as part of the city’s 50th anniversary), packed streets could turn into packed waterways. While one may be less at-risk to acquire or transmit the virus out on the gulf, officials remind boaters that there are risks when operating a vessel under the influence — as the 4th is a big drinking holiday. It is also recommended to not board your boat with anyone who is not in your immediate household or tie up with those you have not been in regular contact with.

“Impairment can be even more dangerous for boaters, since most have less experience and confidence operating a boat than they do driving a car,” said Yvonne Pentz, communications director of the National Safe Boating Council, in a release. “Boaters should also always wear a life jacket, similar to wearing a seat belt when you’re in a vehicle.”

According to the release, The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators — a partner of the Safe Boating Campaign — in collaboration with the U.S. Coast Guard and law enforcement agencies nationwide, is coordinating the annual Operation Dry Water three-day weekend. This heightened BUI awareness and enforcement effort will be held from July 3 to July 5 in every U.S. state and territory.

Since the campaign took off in 2009, law enforcement officers have removed 4,095 BUI operators from the nation’s waterways and made contact with over 1.5 million boaters during the annual three-day weekend.

Other tips from The Safe Boating Campaign include:

n Follow state and local guidance for outdoor recreation

n Share a float plan with a family member or friend with the details of your trip in the event of an emergency

n Carry all required boating safety equipment such as flares, navigation light, horn or whistle and first aid

n Limit the people aboard your boat to people within your immediate household

n Stay at least six feet away from other people who do not live in your house

n Maintain a safe distance at the fuel dock or loading up at the marina

n Don’t raft up to other boaters or pull up onto a beach next to some else as it puts you in close proximity

n Pack food, water and other things you may need, as restaurants and marina stores may not be open

n Do not boat distracted and travel at safe speeds

n Have more than one communication device that works when wet

The Safe Boating Campaign is produced under a grant from the Sports Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund and administered by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Fireworks

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill in April making the use of fireworks legal on July 4, as well as New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Floridians in the past would still light off fireworks despite the state statue deeming the selling or firing of them illegal — though they would be legal if used for “agricultural purposes.” Now, on these specific days, the tradition will shine bright through the night sky.

“Legal, courteous and safe fireworks use is our top priority at Phantom Fireworks — particularly this year as we have seen an unprecedented increase in personal fireworks purchases due to COVID-19 crowd restrictions and the cancellation of public shows,” said Bill Weimer, vice president of Phantom Fireworks, in a statement. “If consumers take the time to follow safety and legal protocols, fireworks use and safety can go hand-in-hand and people can find a way to celebrate this unique holiday season safely.”

While watching fireworks dazzle, dance and boom throughout the evening is a spectacle for you and your neighborhood, there are inherent dangers that come with these explosion of colors. Many people have lost fingers, hands, or even more when firing off fireworks.

“Use common sense with fireworks,” said Cape Coral Police Department Public Affairs Officer, Master Corporal Philip Mullen. “Don’t leave them unattended; have a water source nearby; the person lighting them should have eye and other protections and use a long grill-type lighter.”

Mullen also reminded residents that this new law only applies for July 4, not the other dates surrounding the holiday.

“The new law also only allows for lighting on the 4th of July, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, so anyone caught setting off fireworks on any other day could still face penalties,” he said.

CCPD also asks you take your neighbors into consideration, as the department said the most common complains come with those with pets or a veteran suffering from PTSD.

“It also would be neighborly to perhaps ask your neighbors if any of them have pets that will be disturbed, or if anyone is a veteran who suffers from PTSD that could suffer from the fireworks,” Mullen said.

Key safety measures recommended by Phantom include:

n Fireworks, including sparklers, should be handled by sober adults, never children

n Set up and stabilize fireworks on hard, flat surfaces

n Have water readily available; a connected hose is best, a fire extinguisher or bucket of water

n Consider weather conditions and do not shoot fireworks during high winds

n Wear safety gear (glasses and gloves) and use a flashlight when lighting fireworks at night

n Keep pets inside during fireworks use

n Don’t shoot fireworks late at night

n Let your neighbors know when you plan to shoot fireworks

Cookouts/drinking

and driving

While residents won’t be able to head out to a crowded downtown area and take in a spectacular fireworks show and enjoy a few beverages at a local bar, many will be firing up the grill and celebrating the day in their backyard.

CCPD asks that residents continue to follow guidelines to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus. Florida saw a boom in numbers after the Memorial Day holiday.

“Follow the same guidelines you would anywhere else; socially distance/wear masks if around people you don’t live with, wash hands frequently and avoid touching your face,” Mullen said.

It’s also not the best idea to get behind the wheel if impaired — no matter what the day is celebrating.

“Drinking and driving is never tolerated no matter the day, and officers will be out patrolling and looking for impaired drivers just as they always do,” Mullen said.

The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) encouraged motorists who may be traveling this weekend to ensure their vehicle is road-ready, everyone buckles up, and most importantly — never drive impaired.

“The Florida Highway Patrol is committed to ensuring Florida motorists Arrive Alive this Fourth of July weekend,” said Colonel Gene S. Spaulding, Director of the Florida Highway Patrol, in a release. “If you plan on drinking this Fourth of July, ensure you have a designated driver. The life you save may be your own. If you witness an impaired driver, we encourage you to dial *FHP (347) or 911.”

According to FHP, in July of 2019, there were 31,041 crashes in Florida of which 476 involved drugs and/or alcohol and 2,812 DUI arrests were made. FHP troopers will be conducting enforcement operations throughout the holiday weekend, targeting aggressive and impaired drivers statewide.

– Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj