Fireworks incident investigated

In the wake of a pyrotechnic accident at the Medora Musical Aug. 27 that left one woman with first and second degree burns, Billings County State's Attorney Jay Brovold said Thursday afternoon the musical may not have had the proper permit requir...

In the wake of a pyrotechnic accident at the Medora Musical Aug. 27 that left one woman with first and second degree burns, Billings County State's Attorney Jay Brovold said Thursday afternoon the musical may not have had the proper permit required for the display.

"If what they do is considered a public fireworks display, then yes, they should have had a permit," Brovold said.

Kathy Yu, 22, of Taiwan, received first and second degree burns from mortars that mysteriously detonated while she transported them for set up during a pyrotechnics scene of the musical.

Permit issuance would come from Billings County, not the city of Medora, as the Burning Hills Amphitheater is outside city limits, Brovold said.

Billings County did not issue a permit for the display, Brovold said.


The public display permit costs $2.

"There are a lot of legal questions involved that will have to be researched and determinations made," Brovold said.

North Dakota law governing public displays of fireworks says it "does not prohibit supervised public displays of fireworks by cities, fair associations, amusement parks and other organizations. Except when such display is given by a municipality or fair association within its own limits, no display may be given unless a permit therefore has first been secured."

Randy Hatzenbuhler, president of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, who operates the musical, said he and musical officials met with city officials Thursday to discuss permit requirements.

"No one in the county or us had been aware of anything because it wasn't the grade of fireworks that would require that," Hatzenbuhler said.

Hatzenbuhler said county officials did not have clarification on the requirements either.

Dickinson attorney Camille O'Kara Hann, who is not associated with the incident, said in a perusing of the statute, it appears a permit was needed, but would need to be researched further.

Hann said from what she understands, even if the display is held outside the limits of an "incorporated municipality," or a self-sustaining city," a permit is still required.


The specials fireworks for this weekend have been canceled due to a 15-day notice required for the permit, Hatzenbuhler said.

Jeremiah Swenson of Minneapolis, the front-of-house manager for the musical, said Monday that mortars used in the show were stored and transported in a plastic container, despite advisement from the manufacturer to store them in a metal magazine.

Swenson, who has worked at the musical for the past six years, said pyrotechnic safety training provided to workers is very brief, no protective gear is provided and numerous people have handled the pyrotechnics portion of the show.

Officials in the pyrotechnic community question the safety procedures.

Guy Colonna, National Fire Protection Association's staff liaison to the Pyrotechnic Committee for Codes and Standards, said pyrotechnics can be ignited with frictional ignition, one form of which is static.

"People need to be trained that even though it's not hooked up to the firing system, that doesn't necessarily prevent it from finding some other ignition potential and it could be things like static," Colonna said.

NFPA's standards are used in North Dakota's governance of display fireworks, according to the North Dakota Attorney General's Web site.

Julie Heckman, technical director for the American Pyrotechnics Association in Maryland, said about 20 states require display operator licensing.


According to the North Dakota Attorney General's Web site, North Dakota is not one of those states.

"Our standard would say the operator is licensed," Colonna said.

Mike Maslowski, assistant area director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said the incident is being investigated.

"We have been in contact with North Dakota Workforce Management and OSHA, asking them to come out and help try and determine what the cause was and identify if there is anything we can do differently or better," Hatzenbuhler said.

The Taipei Consulate in Kansas City also caught wind of Yu's accident and is concerned for her well-being.

"I'm very grateful that the girl is going to heal, but we want to understand why that happened," Hatzenbuhler said.

Yu said she expects to be released from the hospital sometime this weekend and plans to stay in the area to rest after her release.

"I'm getting better. That's all that matters," Yu said.

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