Fireworks Firm Had No License In Illinois

St. Louis Post Dispatch Newspaper
Friday, July 11, 1997
By Jenny Price
The Indiana company whose fireworks display resulted in a deadly explosion July 3 in Alton did not have a fireworks license required by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Under the Illinois Explosives Act of 1989, any company or individual that stores, possesses or uses explosives - including fireworks - must obtain a license from the DNR.

Scott Schmitz, supervisor of the blasting and explosives division for the DNR, said Thursday that Fireworks Partners Inc. lacked one.

The DNR is one of four state and federal agencies investigating the explosion that left three company workers dead. The three worked for a subsidiary of Fireworks Partners called Mad Bombers.

The explosion occurred when a faulty shell detonated fireworks intended for the show's finale.

Mad Bombers president Andrew James was unavailable for comment Thursday.

Schmitz said the DNR would take administrative action, which could include up to $5,000 in fines, against Mad Bombers. The agency is looking into whether to impose criminal penalties against the company, Schmitz said.

Whoever is responsible for neglecting to get the license could be charged with a Class 3 felony, he said, which is punishable by a two- to five-year jail term.

"We're trying to figure out exactly who the responsible people are," Schmitz said.

He said it was difficult for the DNR to monitor fireworks licensing, because so many companies come into the state each summer to put on Fourth of July displays.

"There's so many shows going on, it's a difficult thing to get a handle on," he said.

Donald Hayes, a member of the Alton Exposition Commission, which hired Mad Bombers for the last two years, said the commission got the required Coast Guard permits for the barge but did not know about the fireworks license requirement.

"I was not aware of it," Hayes said. "I doubt whether anybody on the commission was."

Commission Chairman Jim Hernandez said he also was not aware of the required license. The commission had received permission from the mayor to put on the fireworks display and was allowed by the Illinois Department of Transportation to close the Clark Bridge to traffic during the display.

Thursday, investigators from the DNR, the Coast Guard, the state fire marshal and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration took one last look at the barge. Investigators took videotape of the barge before releasing it to the leasing company that rented the barge to Alton Expo.

OSHA is investigating whether the explosives were used properly and whether Mad Bombers maintained the safety of its workers, said Stephen Gaskill, communications director for OSHA in Washington.

"There are specific steps an employer and workers must follow when they are doing their jobs, particularly hazardous jobs," Gaskill said.

Company Says It Didn't Know About Permit

St. Louis Post Dispatch Newspaper
Saturday, July 12, 1997
By The Associated Press
The president of Mad Bombers Fireworks Productions, whose July 3 fireworks display in Alton ended in the deaths of three workers, on Friday said he didn't know his business needed a state explosives permit.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources says the Plymouth, Ind., company failed to obtain the license as required by a 1989 state law.

That could mean fines of up to $5,000 for the company and two to five years in prison for whoever failed to obtain the permit.

Mad Bombers president Andrew James blamed city officials who organized Alton's annual Independence Day celebration on the Mississippi River, saying they were responsible for getting such permits.

"Our contract requires them to secure all the permits," James said. "That's the way it always is."

DNR spokeswoman Carol Knowles said the final responsibility for obtaining the $75 permit rests with fireworks companies, not festival organizers.

Those in charge of the fireworks show said there was never any talk of an explosives license on their end.

Return to Fireworks Barge Explosions Main Page

Return to Recreational Boat Building Industry Home Page