Report details findings of Roswell fireworks explosion investigation

New Mexico News

ROSWELL, N.M. (KRQE) – A report from the State Fire Marshal’s Office reveals what caused a fireworks explosion in Roswell that killed one firefighter and severely injured another. After working for hours to prepare fireworks for the Fourth of July show, one Roswell firefighter told investigators they were down to their last box of the day when the deadly explosion sparked.

The investigation report says firefighters were fusing aerial fireworks with electric matches when the shell that injured Firefighter Hoby Bonham was holding, accidentally ignited and set off the warehouse full of fireworks.

KRQE News 13 reached out to the American Pyrotechnics Association to learn more about fireworks safety.

“We’re dealing with explosives, and we’re dealing with them in a very unique fashion where we’re doing them for entertainment purposes,” said Gregg Smith, APA Safety Program Manager. “It’s still Class 1 explosives. They’re still sensitive to certain stimuli, and we want to make sure our exposure in case of an incident like this is very minimal.”

He said usually displays are loaded in the mortars and igniters are attached outside at a field where the fireworks show is going to happen. Smith also said it’s safer to have 1 to 3 people, working with a small amount of fireworks at a time.

In Roswell, the State Fire Marshal’s report shows that 12 firefighters were in or around a city storage building on Roswell airport property. The report states that firefighters were fusing fireworks in that concrete building with no windows, where the city was storing all its fireworks. So much pressure built up from all the fireworks going off that it blew out the walls of the place.

Bonham survived with severe burns. A 17-year veteran firefighter, Jeff Stroble, was killed.

The president of the New Mexico Professionals Fire Fighters Association says shame on the City of Roswell for putting its firefighters in this position.

“We’re not trained in pyrotechnics, and it’s my job to make sure that the sad incident that happened in Roswell never happens again,” NMPFFA President Robert Sanchez said.

He said he’s sending out letters to every fire chief in the state to make it clear that firefighters should not be setting up fireworks shows.

A Roswell spokesperson would not say if the firefighters were certified to work with fireworks, because the city is expecting to face a lawsuit in this case.

The investigation also found the fireworks came from a company that didn’t have a permit in New Mexico. However, it did not discover any problems with the fireworks, saying that the one that exploded first was “functioning as designed.”

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