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Preventing Fireworks Disasters

Fireworks Disaster in the News: A three year old child was given a sparkler by her parents to celebrate the Fourth of July. The child left her parent’s supervision and entered the house and set the lit sparkler down in the laundry room. The sparkler came into contact with some combustibles and started a large fire. The family’s mobile home was destroyed and their two year old who was sleeping in a bedroom was killed due to smoke inhalation from the fire.

Every year during the summer months, especially around the Fourth of July, people all over the country celebrate by using fireworks. Fireworks are a symbol of the Fourth of July and people have celebrated with fireworks for decades. Firework displays can range from backyard shows with family to city-sponsored spectacles viewed by thousands.Firework Safety Fireworks are a great way to attract visitors and to show appreciation to the community. In order to have a fun and safe event, however, it is important to remember to put the safety of the operators, organizers, and spectators first.

Over the years people have become more and more aware of the serious hazards posed by setting off fireworks. Both federal and state governments have enacted tougher legislation designed to restrict firework use. These measures have decreased the number of injuries and fatalities, but the numbers of injuries and deaths from fireworks annually are still much too high. The following statistics emphasize that the safest way to enjoy fireworks is to let trained professionals plan and operate them.

Firework Injury Statistics

  • Every year around 10,000 people are treated in emergency rooms with fireworks-related injuries. 
  • A majority of fireworks injuries occur in the month surrounding the Fourth of July
  • Most fireworks injuries occur to the hands and fingers
  • Children under the age of 15 have the highest rate of fireworks injuries treated in emergency rooms

Tips for Having a Safe Fireworks Display

The safest and most effective way to prevent firework-related injuries and deaths is to leave all fireworks displays to trained professionals. If these professionals are unavailable for your firework displays the following safety tips will help keep you and your audience safe.

Only adults should use fireworks.

The vast majority of firework-related injuries happen to children under the age of 15.  Understanding the risks fireworks pose to children and the importance of having adults present to handle fireworks can greatly decrease injuries and deaths.

Follow federal and state firework laws.

Every state has unique rules and regulations concerning the use, possession, and distribution of all types of fireworks. Knowing the laws in your state can keep you safe, prevent fines, and protect you from purchasing unsafe or illegal fireworks. The following link contains updated laws for every state concerning fireworks.

Use fireworks in clear, open areas

Make sure the area being used is clear of any obstructions. Also, make sure the area where fireworks are used is clear of dry, potentially flammable grass, wood, or debris. It is also a good idea to monitor your state’s wildfire warnings and make sure there isn’t a fire weather watch in effect. These warnings occur during extended periods of dry weather and higher-than-average wind speeds. During these conditions, lighting fireworks could lead to potentially lethal wildfires. For more information regarding wildfire warnings visit the USDA Forest Service Page.

Light fireworks on flat surfaces.

Using a flat surface is extremely important when using fireworks. If the area where you are using fireworks is too uneven, there is the potential they could tip over and go off horizontally and severely injure someone. Flat surfaces are also important when using fireworks that take off vertically, like bottle rockets. If the area is too uneven they could have an angled trajectory which could result in an injury to a person, property damage, or fires.

Have fire extinguishers ready.

Have water and/or a fire extinguisher nearby. When using fireworks, there should be at least one person assigned the duty of operating the fire extinguisher in case something should go wrong.

Store and dispose of fireworks safely.

Do not store fireworks for extended periods of time and use as soon after purchase as possible. When storing fireworks, keep them in a cool dry place out of the reach of children.

Once a firework is used it should be allowed to rest for 15 to 20 minutes.  Once this period of time is over it should be placed in a bucket of water to soak thoroughly. After the rest period and soak period they can be safely disposed of in a regular trash receptacle. Both of these steps are important because if fireworks are not soaked properly there is a potential for heat to be trapped inside of them and they can reignite and cause trash fires. Also, use caution when cleaning up debris from used fireworks since certain parts may still be extremely hot, combustible, or sharp.

Know how to handle firework duds.

If a firework malfunctions, do not attempt to relight it. Allow it to rest for 15 to 20 minutes and then safely douse it with water and let sit for another 15 to 20 minutes. After this period of time submerge the firework in water and allow it to soak. Once the firework is completely soaked it is safe to dispose.

Light fireworks carefully.

When lighting a firework it is recommended to use an extended butane lighting device, extended match, or some device that provides the maximum distance between the wick and you. Also, always light the wick at the very top and never light the wick in the middle or the bottom.

Once lit, keep your distance.

Once fireworks are safely lit it is important to stand a safe distance away before, during, and after the launch. Do not lean over fireworks or stand too closely.  It is also important to keep a safe distance away in case the firework is a dud or malfunctions since in some of these instances there will be a delayed launch. It is recommended that all spectators be 30 feet away from all fountain style fireworks or anything that emits sparks. For all aerial fireworks, like mortars or bottle rockets, it is recommended that spectators be 100 yards away.

Do not experiment with fireworks.

A significant number of injuries and deaths associated with fireworks come from tampering with the original design of the firework. Occasionally individuals will combine the explosive material from inside fireworks in an attempt to create larger, more powerful fireworks. This is extremely dangerous and often leads to unpredictable and hazardous results.

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