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Jun 9, 2010 9:42 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Man injured in fireworks explosion in Westhampton

Jun 9, 2010 9:42 AM

A brush fire ignited by exploding fireworks broke out in the woods just north of Francis S. Gabreski County Airport on Sunday morning.

An unidentified employee of Bay Fireworks, which has a storage facility just north of the Westhampton airport, was injured in the blast, according to the Southampton Town fire marshal’s office. The victim was airlifted by helicopter to Stony Brook University Medical Center, according to town fire officials. He suffered second- and third-degree burns on his hands, and first- and second-degree burns on his arms, neck and face, according to John Rankin, a fire marshal with the town.

The fireworks exploded outdoors, under a canopy where the injured employee was working, Mr. Rankin said. The worker was preparing mortar shells for upcoming Fourth of July fireworks shows and was inserting “electronic matches,” devices that ignite fuses with an electric charge, into the fireworks.

Mr. Rankin said he does not know what made the fireworks detonate, explaining that officials in his department are still investigating the incident. He said that the explosion was “definitely accidental.”

“It had something to do with the product, not the individual,” Mr. Rankin said.

The fireworks shot into the woods, igniting the brush fire, Mr. Rankin said. The fire started at around 9:20 a.m. and was extinguished by 11:50 a.m. Sunday, according to Fred Bauer, the public information officer for the Westhampton Beach Fire Department.

There were about 10 boxes of fireworks, of various sizes, destroyed in the explosion, Mr. Rankin said. The canopy that the employee was working under was also severely damaged by the blast, he said.

The brush fire burned less than 3 acres of woods, officials said. Mr. Rankin said fire department personnel were concerned because the blaze broke out close to the pine barrens, near the same area that was ravaged by the 1995 Sunrise Wildfires. Westhampton Beach Fire Department Chief Al Tudisco said crews responding to the blaze were worried about the high winds on Sunday, adding that they had plenty of water and trucks to control and extinguish the blaze.

Bay Fireworks, a commercial pyrotechnics company with offices in Farmingdale, owns a storage facility just north of Gabreski Airport. Dennis Brady Jr., the company’s chief operating executive, said he could not release the name of the employee who was injured. When reached Monday, Mr. Brady said the victim was still in the hospital and should be released sometime this week.

Mr. Brady said he did not yet know what had detonated the fireworks. He pointed out that his employees work outdoors, under canopies, just in case something goes wrong—as was the case Sunday morning.

“We have tables and stations outside for this exact reason,” he said.

There were about eight employees working at the Westhampton storage facility the time of the explosion, Mr. Rankin said. No one else was injured.

“The fire departments did an excellent job,” Mr. Rankin said. “Thank God it was just one injury.”

In addition to Westhampton Beach, fire departments from East Quogue, Eastport, East Moriches, Riverhead, Flanders, Quogue and Hampton Bays also responded to the scene. The fire department based at New York State Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing, which is stationed at Gabreski, also responded.

Members of the Westhampton War Memorial Ambulance also responded as did ambulances from East Quogue, Flanders and Hampton Bays.

Officials with the Southampton Town Police Department, Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department and the Suffolk County Fire Marshal’s Office, as well as agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration also responded.

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Excuse me, did I read this correctly? A fireworks storage facility at Gabreski Airport! Really? Does the Gabreski Community Advisory Board know its there? How dumb an idea is this!
By usuallyquietonquiogue (10), Westhampton Beach on Jun 6, 10 2:28 PM
I'm not certain why you think this is a "dumb iidea,' but perhaps you are unaware that that "storage facility" was constructed during the period when Gabreski was Westhampton Air Force Base, and the units were all bunkered within robust berms. At least one of the buildings was rated to house nuclear warheads.

That area, owned by the Tuccio family of Riverhead, is remote from the rest of the airport, and behind a secure fence.

It's one of the best locations on Eastern Long Island ...more
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Jun 6, 10 2:44 PM
2 members liked this comment
How about having some concern for the worker that was injured?

You'll have plenty of time to begin your crusade against any and every activity that happens at the airport.

What's next on your agenda? Holy Moses?
By politcal pawn (121), Flanders on Jun 6, 10 8:11 PM
Would have like to see that go off!
By GoldenBoy (351), EastEnd on Jun 6, 10 4:38 PM
Gee I hope the Gabreski Community Advisory Board isn't all up in arms now that they know about the secret covert fireworks/explosives storage facility. and then someone had to comment about the nuclear warheads stored there- great now the Board knows about that too. stand back- i can feel another musty old decrepit community board rearing its wrinkly old head A CAUSE A CAUSE! THIS IS AN OUTRAGE! WE WONT TOLERATE THIS! THIS IS UNFATHOMABLE! WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT AGAIN????
By CaptainSig (716), southampton on Jun 6, 10 8:49 PM
The Gabreski Community Advisory Board knows very little of what goes on inside those fences.
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Jun 6, 10 9:28 PM
They have been storing fireworks there since the 1980's. It really wasn't a secret.
By BigL11946 (29), Hampton Bays on Jun 7, 10 7:37 AM
oh great another crusade for the people in the land of No so glad I don't live there anymore.
By typical (63), southampton on Jun 7, 10 8:47 AM
I know the site well and it is pretty remote. I just hope that tjhe act of storing the fireworks there was legal. I also hope the injured person is OK.
By diogenes (57), westhampton on Jun 7, 10 12:33 PM
Thank you for your concern. To answer your questions, the injured employee is doing very well and the fireworks storage is 100% legal. For safety, the starage magazines are kept in a very remote area of the airport.
By Bay Fireworks (1), massapequa on Jun 7, 10 5:36 PM
Thanks for the response - you couldn't pick a better place for storage - the site is very remote and if I recall correctly the Air Force stored their ordinance material there in the 1960's. Glad to hear the employee is doing fine.
By diogenes (57), westhampton on Jun 8, 10 9:46 AM