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Cost of Insurance Snuffs Fireworks for Some Towns

June 23, 1986

Undated (AP) _ With insurance companies demanding more bucks for the bang, Morton, Ill., Madisonville, Ky., and other towns around the country have decided they can’t afford fireworks for the Fourth of July.

Associated Press bureaus report that the show goes on in many other cities, but at a higher price.

″We’re in the same boat as every other community,″ said Diane Trezenski, the city clerk in Dunkirk, N.Y., ″but we refuse to give up our traditions.″

The Michigan Municipal League, which offers insurance to about 200 cities, discontinued coverage for fireworks on Jan. 1.

″It’s a needless liability that we don’t need to be involved with,″ said Bob Kish, an insurance representative for the league. ″On the average fourth of July we’ll get eight or nine injuries and that out of about 200 cities.″

The annual displays sponsored by the Madisonville Kiwanis Club and Parkway Plaza Mall were canceled because their producer, Col. Wise Fireworks Co. of Louisville, was unable to meet liability insurance requirements.

″The last time we spoke with Col. Wise, they were only going to be able to furnish a bond, not a certificate of insurance ... and that’s not good enough,″ said Doug Berry, vice president of the Kiwanis.

Cliff Wise, whose fireworks company has been in his family since 1871, said insurance premiums have more than doubled and his business is off by 25 percent.

In Morton, the village board and the Veterans of Foreign Wars post decided to cancel their annual show.

″As if people couldn’t tell, we are awfully nervous about insurance this year,″ said board member Jack Bond.

Lack of fire insurance killed the ″Skyfire″ show in Reno, Nev., where a hot, dry spring has made the threat of brushfires especially serious, and the Rotary Club in Sierra Vista, Ariz., canceled its show at Buena High School after the school board required $2 million in liability coverage.

″The availability of that high a coverage is almost nonexistent,″ said outgoing Rotary president John Sinclair, who is also superintendent of schools.

″No one can write a million-dollar umbrella - $500,000 is all, the best you can get. And you can’t do it unless you’re a member of the American Pyrotechnic Association,″ said Ray Stout, owner of Fireworks Productions, which is involved in several shows in Arizona.

He said Tempe, Glendale and Tucson cooperated by co-insuring or granting a waiver.

In Topeka, Kan., insurance for the annual ″Go 4th″ fireworks show won’t cost any more than last year, sponsors said.

But the big show at the Kansas City (Mo.) Spirit Festival, July 3-5, was salvaged when the City Council lowered its insurance requirement from $1 million to $500,000.

The insurance industry blames the increase in costs on soaring damage awards handed out by juries. Trial lawyers and other critics, however, accuse the insurance industry of greed.

The Board of Education in Lockport, N.Y., had demanded a $5 million policy this year from the Zambelli Internationale Fireworks Manufacturing Co., because of an explosion last year that frightened spectators but caused no injuries.

″It added excitement to the crowd,″ said George ″Boom-Boom″ Zambelli. The company, based in New Castle, Pa., is one of the rare fireworks companies that can offer a $1 million liability policy, he said.

The Lockport board later agreed to accept the $1 million coverage.

″I don’t think you can get $5 million coverage anywhere,″ said John Conkling, executive director of the American Pyrotechnic Association.

″To my knowledge, there has never been a claim paid out in excess of $500,000,″ Conkling added.

August Santore, owner of Garden State Fireworks, said his company will produce 125 shows this year. ″Our claims average only about $700 to $1,000 a year,″ he said, mostly for cars damaged by falling ashes.

Zambelli, whose company will stage the fireworks display at the Statue of Liberty festivities, said his company will produce 1,400 displays this year.

Brighton, Mich., canceled its fireworks after 15-year-old spectator Christy Eilber was killed at the 1984 show.

Her parents are suing the city and the fireworks manufacturer.

″The one that killed my daughter was the size of the three-pound coffee can,″ said Dorothy Eilber. ″I don’t call that fireworks, I call that a bomb.″

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