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Firework Safety Tips 2019

Fireworks are a Fourth of July staple. After all, 49 of the 50 states allow private firework use.1 (Sorry, Massachusetts. Maybe you should throw tea in the harbor to celebrate instead?) They’re fun, but they can be dangerous.

We’ve created this resource to help you light consumer fireworks safely this Fourth of July.

ASL Definition

“Consumer fireworks” is a term for fireworks designed to be set off by amateurs (a.k.a. most people using them during a holiday). They may also be referred to as a “consumer product.”

Fireworks SafetyFirework safety tips

Lighting a few Roman candles and bottle rockets may not sound like a big deal, but consumer fireworks have a real chance of hurting you or someone you love. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that on average, 280 folks with firework-related injuries visit the emergency room within a month of July 4th.2

Matt McGowan, a firefighter paramedic in Santa Barbara County, says, “We normally see minor first- and second-degree burns to hands and extremities, but. . . more serious injuries can occur.”

The National Safety Council urges the nation to forego consumer fireworks and attend professional displays instead. If you want fireworks but decide you’d rather not light them yourself, that’s always an option.

When you misuse fireworks, it doesn’t affect just you. Stray fireworks can cause problems in entire communities. Besides causing structure fires in urban and suburban neighborhoods, fireworks used in or near rural areas can start wildfires.

Here are our top tips for keeping you and your family safe around fireworks:

  1. Skip the sparklers
  2. Use consumer fireworks only
  3. Light fireworks only in approved areas
  4. Wear safety gear
  5. Keep water nearby
  6. Aim fireworks away from nearby homes and cars
  7. Don’t let kids light fireworks
  8. Don’t relight duds

1. Skip the sparklers

Sparklers are all the rage for wedding exits and long-exposure Instagram photos. They look cool, and they seem a lot safer than aerial fireworks. But the truth is, they’re actually quite dangerous, especially for kids.

Sparklers

Yes, they’re striking. They’re also extremely hot. Sparklers burn at around 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.3 These things could be used in a heist movie to melt metal and it would be scientifically accurate. You don’t want your children (or yourself, even) holding them. So when you buy fireworks, sparklers shouldn’t be on your list.

If you still want kids to join the fun, you can let them throw bang snaps. (Just make sure they’re wearing shoes, and don’t let them do the old “snap my fingers with a bang snap between them” trick.) Or, for something even safer, give them each a glow stick. You can get glow stick bracelets, necklaces, wands, windmills, and swords. Lots of bright fun; no fire involved.

If you live in Illinois, Ohio, or Vermont, where sparklers are some of the few legal consumer fireworks, you may want to just attend a professional display instead of lighting your own.4

2. Use consumer fireworks only

First of all, don’t use illegal fireworks. Legal fireworks have manufacturer labels with directions. Illegal fireworks might be unlabeled. They could also have the following names:

  • M-80
  • M-100
  • Blockbuster
  • Quarterpounder5

Second of all, make sure that the fireworks you get are for consumer use, not professionals. Professional display fireworks may come packaged in brown paper.6 If you see any, they’re not for you. Don’t buy them.

Finally, don’t make your own fireworks. It’s a bad idea. And it’s illegal in every state.

3. Light fireworks only in approved areas

In some cities along Utah’s Wasatch Front, fireworks are banned above a certain altitude. That’s because the mountains are full of flammable brush. If someone sets off a firework too close to those areas, they could start a forest fire.

Similarly, if there are firework-restricted areas where you are, follow the guidelines. They may seem like a barrier to your Fourth of July fun, but they exist to keep the community safe.

4. Wear safety gear

Everyone who lights a firework should wear gloves and safety goggles. Work gloves protect the hands, where 28% of firework injuries occur.7 You should be able to get them at any big-box store like Home Depot, Walmart, or online on Amazon

Safety goggles, of course, prevent eye injuries. Affordable safety goggles are surprisingly easy to find. Again, Home Depot, Walmart, and Amazon all carry them.

Injuries

If someone does get injured by a firework, rush the injured person to the nearest hospital or children’s hospital (or call an ambulance). Don’t take them to urgent care. Urgent care facilities are for same-day treatment for non-emergency ailments. They aren’t designed to handle emergency situations. Firework injuries should always be considered an emergency because you may not know the severity of a burn until a doctor looks at it.

5. Keep water nearby

Even if you’re super careful, something could go wrong. Keep a bucket of water close at hand. (A fire extinguisher is an acceptable alternative. If you don’t have one, check out our list of the best fire extinguishers.)

Also have a garden hose nearby, one that’s long enough to reach the firework spot. Ideally, if something does catch on fire, the bucket will do the trick. But if it doesn’t, you’re going to need a more powerful stream.

Before disposing of the used fireworks, soak them thoroughly with water.

6. Aim fireworks away from nearby homes and cars

Fireworks aren’t one of the most common house fire causes, so let’s keep it that way. Your state might allow you to light fireworks on residential streets, and that’s cool, but you have to aim away from houses. Cars, too.

For context, fireworks are responsible for 1,300 structure fires and 300 vehicle fires each year, estimates the National Fire Protection Association.8

7. Don’t let kids light fireworks

Even with your supervision, this is a no. Young children should be kept far, far away from the fireworks, the matches, the lighter, and so on. They can spectate, but they can’t participate. This may mean that an adult needs to stay at a safe distance with the kids.

It might be okay to allow a super-responsible, adult-sized teenager to light fireworks if you’re helping them. But use your judgment, and err on the side of safety if you’re unsure.

P.S. Fireworks are a good reason to talk to kids about general fire safety tips, including keeping your smoke detector up to date. (Here’s a guide to best smoke detectors.)

8. Don’t relight duds

If a firework doesn’t go off right away, don’t relight it. Don’t touch it or stand over it, either. Just leave it until it’s time to dispose of the shells.

Why? The dud might not be a dud. It could just be delayed. You could lean over it, peering to see what’s wrong, only to have it go off in your face. We’re not kidding: 34% of firework injuries are on or near the face.9

Conclusion

Says McGowan, “People just need to use common sense” when it comes to fireworks. By using our checklist and keeping safety top of mind, you can enjoy your Fourth of July without a firework fiasco.

Firework safety checklist

  • Skip the sparklers
  • Use consumer fireworks only
  • Light fireworks only in approved areas
  • Wear safety gear
  • Keep water nearby
  • Aim fireworks away from nearby homes and cars
  • Don’t let kids light fireworks
  • Don’t relight duds

Sources

  1. American Pyrotechnics Association, “State Law Directory
  2. United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, “Fireworks Information Center
  3. National Safety Council, “Best to Leave Fireworks to the Experts
  4. American Pyrotechnics Association, “State Law Directory
  5. KidsHealth from Nemours, “Fireworks Safety
  6. United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, “Fireworks Information Center
  7. United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, “Fireworks Information Center
  8. National Fire Protection Association, “Fireworks
  9. United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, “Fireworks Information Center

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