Seven Fireworks Safety Tips

June 30, 2016
Seven fireworks safety tips for your Fourth of July

No fun is worth your fingers…

On the nights I manage to peel Manfriend away from the Xbox, we spend our nights watching the dumbest things on Youtube. Sometimes it’s top ten videos, sometimes it’s snippets of news, but recently they’ve been “fail” videos a la Jackass. There’s just something about watching a teenager flail face-first off a trampoline that cracks us up.

But with the Fourth of July on the horizon, I’ve been seeing more and more fireworks fails on the web. While they seem funny and the explosions are cool, fireworks are a lot more dangerous than trampolines. You can reset a nose and put some Neosporin on a scrape, but you’re going to need your fingers.

For a story I wrote on large-scale fireworks displays in town, I spoke to the city’s fire marshal, and he told me all about the stupid things he’s seen over the years and how to avoid them. So here are seven fireworks safety tips to help you make it through the weekend with all ten fingers.

  1. Know the law. Before you let anything go “bang,” know what you can and can’t set off in your locality. In the city, we’re not allowed to possess any fireworks of any kind — even sparklers! In the county, you can’t set off aerial fireworks. Back in PA, we couldn’t buy consumer-grade fireworks, but they sold them and people from out of state could buy them (so not fair). Even if you’re willing to risk breaking the law, know what you’re going to get in trouble for when the nosy neighbors complain.
  2. You’re not an expert. The pyrotechnicians that set off large displays have years of experience and must be licensed, so they renew and test for their certifications every few years. Unless you are one of these people, you don’t know as much about fireworks as you think. There’s more to it than lighting a fuse and running for cover.
  3. Leave clearance. The bigger the shell, the further you should be from people and buildings. Ever inch in diameter means 100 feet of clearance. The fire marshal said it’s the biggest mistake he sees. It’s baffling to think the pros are governed by these guidelines, yet some people will set their family up 25 feet from a glorified stick of dynamite. Fireworks aren’t an exact science, and they can be knocked over or misfire. The last thing you need is to send a 2-inch mortar into your neighbor’s attic or straight at your kids.
  4. Never trust a dud. Just because a mortar doesn’t explode when lit doesn’t mean it never will. The fire marshal has responded to more than one call about missing fingers because someone tried to relight a firework that didn’t explode right away. He recommends leaving them untouched in the blast zone for several hours before disposing of them.
  5. Even sparklers are dangerous. Sparklers burn at around 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit and once lit, they won’t go out until their done burning. If you fall on them or drop them, they will still burn. And lighting more than one at a time causes them to burn at a faster rate and stick together. Now instead of painting with light, you’re holding a roman candle in your hand. Yet we still give them to our six-year-old children every year. Watch your children and teach them how to be safe.
  6. Keep alcohol out of it. It’s been proven time and again at frat houses and house parties that drunk people do stupid shit. Add explosives to the mix, and you’re flirting with disaster. The fire marshal discouraged any drinking while playing with explosives, and it sounds obvious when said like that. But I’m not a total funsucker. I would say if you wouldn’t drive at your level of intoxication, you shouldn’t be setting off mortars.
  7. Have a first aid kit nearby. No one is infallible, so in the off chance something goes wrong, it’s good to be prepared. Have gauze, burn cream, and clean towels to help keep minor burns clean. And no, slathering butter on it will not help. Run the burn under cold water and ice it. For anything more severe such as third degree burns and missing appendages, call 911 or get to the ER immediately.

I’m not trying to scare anyone or say you can’t have fun this Fourth — I’ve broken quite a few fire code regulations in my day. Just be smart about it, and recognize that you’re handling a form of explosive. While I know there’s no way to keep everyone safe this holiday, hopefully you will keep your eyes open — and your beer goggles off — so you can have just as much fun next year.

Do you have any crazy fireworks stories? Do tell!

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