Rules of engagement for using fireworks on the Fourth of July

  • Published
  • By Air Force Safety Center
  • AFSC
Across the United States each year, millions of dollars in property burn, and thousands of lives are affected by fireworks related accidents. The incidence of fireworks related property loss and injuries have always been a concern to this community.

The potential for a devastation wildland-urban fire is extremely high each summer. The use of fireworks compounded the fire hazard danger. With these recognized dangers, South County Fire has aggressively reduced the fireworks related property losses and personal injuries.

It is time again to celebrate this nation's birthday. Many of us will fire up the barbecue, turn on the baseball game, and fire off a few fire crackers, cherry bombs and other assorted fireworks. So much of a tradition has this become that many of us have come to feel that it is almost a God-given right. Unfortunately, far too many people are injured and killed by the improper use of these explosive, fun-filled devices.

Touring almost any hospital emergency room during the fourth of July weekend will reveal just how many adults and children are injured each year. Many of them will come with fingers missing, ear drums damaged and eyes injured beyond repair. Others, the lucky ones, will walk away with only a minor scrape or two.

This year, if you intend to celebrate the holiday weekend in the traditional explosive manner, you should follow the 12 safety rules for using fireworks. These rules and a little common sense should help you and your families stay safe from injuries this year.

Rule 1: Use only professionally-manufactured fireworks. Look for the DOT class "C" listing label and forget those made by cousin Bill or his friend. One of the leading causes of fireworks accidents is homemade fireworks. This is because quality control is often times absent. Faulty fuses often cause premature ignition, many of them contain bad powder, and sometimes they contain too much powder. The list of potential problems is endless. So, purchase only those fireworks that are legal in your state and local area.

Most stores will have a listing of these rules. Those who are caught using illegal fireworks face forfeiture, fines and imprisonment.

Rule 2: Never allow a minor to use fireworks without parental supervision. This too often leads to horseplay and experimentation, not to mention the ensuing trip to the emergency room. And, if your child should injure another person while using fireworks in an unsupervised situation, you may very well be held accountable for the incident.

Rule 3: Never play with fireworks if you have consumed alcohol or any mind-altering substance. A few years ago, a Pittsburgh resident celebrated the holiday by drinking one too many. He then lit an M80-type fire cracker and forgot to throw it. Everyone now calls him three-finger Pete.

Rule 4: Be sure to have plenty of space around you, ideally a 50 foot circle, before you set off your fireworks. Also, be sure there are no combustibles within that radius of safety that could catch on fire from a lit fuse.

Rule 5: The ground within this radius of safety should be clear of debris and it should be level and hard. This will help prevent your fireworks from tipping over. It will also facilitate your own escape if something should go wrong after lighting fireworks.

Rule 6: Never set off fireworks if it is windy. Otherwise, that bottle rocket you are about to launch could very well come your way. This is especially true if the bottle you use is too small. In addition, make sure that the path that the rocket will take is such that it will not hit anything or anyone.

Rule 7: If a fireworks device misfires, stop immediately and back away from it to a safe distance. Then wait at least two minutes before you approach it again. Do not attempt to relight the same fireworks device. Instead, discard it in a metal container filled with water and close the lid. Be sure to keep this container away from people and nearby structures. After they have thoroughly soaked, pull out the wicks, break them apart and dispose of them so they cannot be reused.

Rule 8: Use safety goggles and wear a long-sleeved shirt and pants instead of shorts made of a quick-burning fiber. Professionals who specialize in fireworks displays usually wear garments treated with a fire retardant, such as Nomex. Avoid wearing 100% cottons, nylons and rayon, which can ignite and melt on your skin.

Rule 9: Never toss a fire cracker near a person, vehicle or structure. Instead, throw them on the ground, away from you and others.

Rule 10: Keep sparklers away from other people when in use and avoid twirling them in the air. These devices burn at extremely-high temperatures.

Rule 11: Never purchase and attempt to light professional-grade fireworks. These should be used strictly by professionals. Even a pro can lose their life when one of these giant fireworks malfunctions. Many states require a professional pyrotechnics license before someone is allowed to use or even purchase this type of fireworks.

Rule 12: Store fireworks in a cool, dry area and in their original boxes. Avoid storing them in garages or within dwellings. Be aware that some states carry very specific laws concerning how much fireworks individuals are allowed to purchase and store. The police, for example, raided a house in Pittsburgh to find two dump truck loads of fireworks. It was estimated by experts that if a fire had broken out in that home, at least three quarters of a city block would have been destroyed.

Rule 13: Keep a Class ABC fire extinguisher in the area where you intend to ignite your fireworks. Remember, many fireworks devices, like sparklers, use magnesium that will burn at 1,000 F. Water- and ABC-type fire extinguishers will not extinguish these flames. In addition, if a lit sparkler should come into contact with your skin, it will continue to burn until it exhausts its supply of energy. The type of burn that this type of fireworks produces is extremely painful in nature and often requires surgery and skin grafts to correct.

Rule 14: Never use fireworks indoors.

Rule 15: Always expect the unexpected and be ready to act.