Every Independence Day, Americans across the country gather in parks and backyards to watch fireworks light up the skies in dazzling displays of red, white and blue.
Enjoying the sights and sounds of fireworks on our nation’s birthday is as American as apple pie. However, firework fun can quickly become dangerous if proper safety precautions are not taken when using consumer fireworks.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 5,900 fireworks-related injuries occurred during the Fourth of July season in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Children under the age of 15 comprised a significant component of the total injuries, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the incidents. The most harmful explosives were firecrackers, sparklers and rocket bottles.
The good news is that with a little care and common sense, setting off fireworks can be a safe and fun activity for the whole family. This Fourth of July season, keep the “oohs” and “aahs” from turning into “ouches” by following these important safety tips from the National Council on Fireworks Safety and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:
- Only children over the age of 12 should be allowed to handle sparklers of any type. Many parents don’t realize how dangerous sparklers are—the tips of sparklers burn at temperatures of more than 1,200 degrees, hot enough to inflict third-degree burns. Any sparkler activity should be parent supervised.
- Set off fireworks outdoors only. Select an open area away from homes, cars and other objects, and steer clear of flammable materials such as brush or dry leaves.
- Obey local laws. Many state regulations prohibit the use of consumer fireworks, so check with your local police department before purchasing and using fireworks.
- According to the National Fire Protection Association, far more U.S. fires are reported on Independence Day than on any other day of the year. Always be sure to keep a bucket of water on hand in case of mishap. Additionally, extinguish used fireworks thoroughly before discarding to prevent trash fires.
- Spectators should maintain a safe distance from the shooter, as fireworks have been known to backfire or shoot off in the wrong direction.
- Only light one firework at a time. When lighting the fuse, never have any portion of your body directly over the device and retreat quickly to a safe distance after lighting.
- Always wear eye protection—eyes are the second most commonly injured area.
- Never carry fireworks in a pocket, as friction may cause the fuse to ignite.
- Do not attempt to relight or pick up a firework that has malfunctioned. The firework may still be ignited and could explode at any time.
By and large, your safest bet is to simply leave fireworks to the pros. Attend a professional fireworks display sponsored by local governments and businesses, and you’ll keep your Fourth of July celebration from going up in flames.