Fireworks: Don’t Try This at Home
Why you should leave the snap, crackle and pop to the pros
Lawn chairs? Check. Blankets? Check. Bug spray? Double-check. After the picnics and parades are over, the town’s annual fireworks display ends Independence Day with a bang.
And that’s exactly where fireworks belong, experts say — at professionally run public shows rather than your street or back yard.
Why do groups such as the American College of Emergency Physicians insist people shouldn’t set off their own fireworks? It’s simply too dangerous. In fact, eight people died and more than 11,000 people were injured by fireworks in 2013, the last year for which statistics were available, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
TV meteorologist David Rexroth of WXYZ-TV in Detroit is among the more recent casualties: In 2014 he lost an eye in a fireworks accident while on vacation. His family had a tradition of setting off fireworks beside their relative’s pond, but as he lit the rockets, one exploded in his face.
“It’s been harder to heal my heart and spirit than my eye,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “The hardest part was getting through the guilt of having done something to myself that could jeopardize my family’s livelihood.” Rexroth has since gotten a prosthetic eye and returned to work. He has vowed never to touch fireworks again and has made his three boys swear not to touch them.
Safety officials hope to prevent such devastating injuries by warning people away from fireworks.
“Fireworks cause thousands of burns and eye injuries each year,” reports the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA). “Even sparklers can burn hot enough to cause third-degree burns.”
Here’s how to avoid injury form fireworks according to the NFPA, the National Safety Council and other safety groups.
Don’t set fireworks off yourself. More fires are reported on the Fourth of July than on any other day of the year in this country, and two out of five of them are caused by fireworks. Thousands of people have been injured or lost fingers or eyes when fireworks exploded too close to them, or they’ve been maimed by glass when a firecracker exploded in a bottle.
Never pick up an unexploded firework. After a fireworks show, you may see something on the ground that looks like a softball wrapped in brown paper. That’s a dud, a firework that didn’t explode. "If you see a dud, don't touch it,” says Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association. “Notify event organizers so they can safely remove it." Watch children to make sure they don’t pick up any fireworks debris.
Never try to relight a firecracker. This is extremely dangerous – it can explode in your face or hands.
Don’t play with sparklers or let your children play with them. Sparklers can reach 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to burn metal. Imagine what they can do to little fingers.
Bring hearing protection. Fireworks noise can startle or scare young children, so consider bringing ear plugs for them, says Heckman. Keep dogs home so they don’t bolt and end up lost; their ears are very sensitive.
Keep children under close watch at the fireworks show. Stay behind the tape, fencing or barricades that organizers have set up as safety perimeters, Heckman says, “and don’t feel like you need to be right up there in the front.” (In fact, the further away, the better: 39 people were injured in a blast at a professional fireworks show near Los Angeles in 2013 when a row of rockets allegedly tipped over and fired into the crowd.) Know where the nearest exit is and plan how you’ll leave the area.
Beware fireworks set off by the crowd. Some people bring their own fireworks to public events to shoot off during the show, and if you’re a bystander, you could be injured. If you see people setting up their own rockets, move away fast. It’s especially dangerous to light fireworks on uneven surfaces like hills or picnic tables that might tip over and send the fireworks racing toward other people.
“The biggest problem with consumer fireworks is misuse, not taking the time to read the label or trying to act like a professional” and setting off several fireworks at once, Heckman says.
What about the neighbors?
If you happen across a block party where there are fireworks, it’s safer to take your family and skeedaddle. If you’re walking by, stay 30 to 40 feet away from where fireworks are lit, if they are “typical cones and fountains,” Heckman says. Add more distance for more energetic fireworks such as reloadable shells.
Especially if the party’s on your block, advise the organizers to keep a bucket of water and a good working hose nearby to douse a fire. People should drop any hot, spent sparkler wires into the bucket. Sparkler wires can burn bare feet, a common fireworks injury.