Home Fireworks Safety
In many areas of the country, some form of consumer fireworks are legal. Learn how to protect yourself and your family if you're planning on your own festival of lights this holiday
The Fourth of July is a swell summer day, isn't it? You hang out in the hammock, grill a few burgers, and watch—or maybe light your own—fireworks. It's great family fun—if you play it safe with those fireworks.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), more fires are reported on Independence Day than any other day of the year, with more than half those fires caused by fireworks. Added to fires are injuries. In 2007, the latest year for which statistics could be found, an estimated 9,800 people were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries. Many of these accidents can be avoided if the proper safety measures are taken. This Fourth of July, if you live in an area where fireworks are legal and feel the need to try them out, protect yourself, your family, and your neighbors with these safety tips.
Have a designated shooter. Make sure the person using the fireworks is a responsible adult. Never mix alcohol with fireworks, says Ralph Apel, president of the National Council on Fireworks Safety (NCFS). The NCFS also suggests the shooter should wear safety glasses because eye and face damage tend to be the most common forms of fireworks-related injury.
Know the fireworks you are using. Carefully read all the safety and warning labels. Do not use fireworks that have been bought illegally, and do not use fireworks that have no warning labels. Apel says consumers should buy their fireworks only from a licensed dealer. If you're planning on having a festival of lights in your own backyard, make sure you use only consumer (formerly Class C) fireworks. Leave the display (formerly Class B) fireworks to the professionals. According to the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA), the legal limit for explosive material in a consumer firework is 50 milligrams, which the APA notes is about the size of half a common aspirin tablet.
Do not use illegal or homemade fireworks. Use fireworks only as they are intended to be used. Do not put multiple fireworks together and light them off as one. Make sure to purchase only legal fireworks kits. It is illegal to make your own fireworks. Tampering with legal fireworks or building your own is dangerous and can lead to unexpected explosions. Fire Chief and NCFS board member Kyle L. Ienn, of Ralston, Nebraska, says the majority of the accidents he has responded to weren't caused by fireworks but by illegal explosives that people made and treated like fireworks.
Follow local and state laws and regulations. Make sure you know and understand what types of fireworks—if any—can be used in your area. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), 45 states, including Connecticut, California, Texas, and Pennsylvania, allow certain types of consumer fireworks to be sold and used. Five states have banned the sale and use of all consumer fireworks: Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Be sure to look into federal, state, and local safety standards for igniting fireworks. The American Pyrotechnics Association provides information on state-by-state fireworks control laws. You might also check with your local fire department to ask about regulations in your area.
Have some form of water ready. Keep a hose and a bucket of water close at hand. Use the hose to put out stray flames or sparks from firecrackers. Hose down any duds, or fireworks that do not ignite when lit, and let them sit for at least 20 minutes before handling to ensure they aren't delayed starters. After the wait time has elapsed, soak the firework in a bucket of water for an additional 15 to 20 minutes before disposing of it. Chief Ienn suggests using a hose to wet the ground where the fireworks were lit after your celebration. During the July 4th season, he says, firefighters respond to lots of small grass fires, as well as small fires in trash cans and dumpsters in which fireworks were lit. When disposing of dud fireworks and firework fragments, make sure they have been thoroughly soaked. Reserve a doubled trash bag for saturated fireworks and keep it out of and away from any residential structures. Check your local waste management guidelines for proper disposal in your area. Do not place unused fireworks in the garbage. Store them in a cool, dry place away from flammable objects or liquids and out of the reach of children.
Observe precautions when lighting fireworks.
Chief Ienn advises that fireworks be placed on level, solid ground. Gravel, dirt, or grass can sometimes be soft or uneven, which may cause rockets to tip over while firing. If a grassy area is the only place available, lay down a flat, wooden board from which to launch your fireworks. Chief Ienn also advises against the use of matches to light fireworks. Instead, he recommends using a multipurpose lighter. Make sure your hands and face are not directly over the firework while you're lighting the fuse. Once it's lit, join spectators at a safe distance. Never attempt to re-light a firework if it does not ignite the first time.
Be aware of your surroundings. Plan where people will be sitting and the direction in which aerial fireworks will be firing beforehand. When purchasing any type of firework, keep the size of your space in mind and determine required spectator distances beforehand so you don't bring home something you shouldn't be lighting. Make sure onlookers are a safe distance away. Chief Ienn says that proper distancing of crowds from displays depends on how the area you're using is situated and what you're lighting. Required spectator distances vary depending on what's being lit. For example, crowds should stand at least 15 feet away from burning cones and fountains. Check labels for the required safety distances of each unit. In general, fireworks should be placed far enough away so that if they tip over, their flames won't reach any spectators. Also, make sure you are not lighting fireworks near combustible materials, such as newspapers, gasoline, or dried leaves. Never ignite fireworks indoors, and always set them off away from buildings and houses.
Keep children away. Children should not handle fireworks and should be kept under strict adult supervision when viewing them. "Teach your children proper firework spectator safety and supervise them closely," says Apel. Fireworks can be fun and entertaining for children—as long as they are kept at a safe distance and understand how powerful fireworks are and how dangerous they can be when used improperly.
Learn what to do in the event of an injury. Before you light fireworks, familiarize yourself with first-aid information and advice from medical professionals, which can be found through online resources. The Mayo Clinic website offers a wealth of information about basic first aid. (You can also read more about first aid for household injuries from This Old House.) If you have any questions as to the severity of the injury or the injury appears to need professional medical attention, call 911 or take the injured person to a hospital emergency room right away.
For more information about fireworks safety, watch the fireworks safety video on the National Council on Fireworks Safety website. But, given the risks involved with consumer fireworks, you might want to simply be a spectator this Fourth of July. Kick back, stay safe, and let the professionals handle the thrilling explosions.