Next week, Americans will consume 150 million hot dogs, spend almost $4 million on imported flags, and launch nearly 270 million pounds of fireworks into the air. July Fourth perfection.
But, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association, roughly 11,000 fireworks-related injuries will also be reported, as well as thousands of fires. To stop your Fourth of July celebration from becoming a statistic, the Lansing Fire Marshal’s Office, a personal-injury lawyer, a long-time fireworks consumer and a fireworks retail executive helped create a foolproof list of safety tips.
1.) Learn local ordinances.
Across Michigan, in a growing number of communities, fireworks are legal only within a three-day window for 10 national holidays, July Fourth being one of them. So, fireworks may be used from July 3,4 and 5, but that doesn’t necessarily mean free rein for 72 hours. In East Lansing and Lansing, consumers may only use fireworks from 8 a.m. to midnight, but not afterward to comply with local noise ordinances.
In smaller communities, like Delhi Charter Township, fireworks can be fired until 1 a.m. And though most Michigan jurisdictions don’t deviate from similar rules, Sean Conn, an executive with the Lansing retailer Big Fireworks, suggested being familiar with fireworks laws wherever they will be shot off, particularly if they will be fired outside of the city of purchase.
“The state law says that a local community can opt in to having restricted use dates of the date before, day of or day after, however the local community has to opt in,” Conn said. “If they don’t opt in, then you can use fireworks yearround, 365 days.”
Lansing Attorney Daniel Zick warns that using fireworks outside of the allotted times can result in a $500 fine or potentially greater penalties, like civil liabilities for property damage or bodily harm.
“And if you’re truly reckless in what you’re doing and injure somebody, there could be criminal responsibility,” Zick said. “It depends, but it’s not unheard of to hear of someone who is conducting recklessly and injures another person.”
2.) Know where to stand.
In fireworks, size matters. The length of the actual firework tube relates directly to how far the projectile will fly, and how great of a fallout zone the debris will make.
“There’s a rule of thumb with our products: you should be at least 75 to 80 feet back for every inch of the tube that is being shot as a firework,” Conn said. “So, you would at least want a diameter on your circle away from your firework of 160 feet for fallout area. That’s for a one-inch. A two-inch you’d want as much as 300 feet around so that you’re in a safe distance where that won’t happen.”
3.) Try before you buy.
Jeremy Gyiraszin, a Westland native who has been putting on fireworks shows for 20 years, advises first-time firework owners to avoid buying a product at random.
“A lot of your fireworks are online and you can see exactly what it is,” Gyiraszin said. “A lot of people go to a store and they don’t know what they’re buying. They go ‘Oh, that’s cool,’ and go by the name or the picture on the box — they’re not sure what that’s really doing. When I do my purchases, I know that I’ve seen what I need before I place my order.”
3.) Know what to do when it’s a dud.
Every so often, fireworks misfire — they’ll light, but won’t go off. In this case, water is key.
“Don’t just throw them in the trash can, you need to soak it in a bucket of water for about 20 to 30 minutes to ensure that the product is saturated,” said a Lansing Fire Marshal’s Office representative, Tony Phillips, “We’ve had several fires over the years where people burned their garages down.”
Having a source of water on-hand is important, especially because some fire extinguishers don’t work on fireworks.
“There’s no need to have a chemical fire extinguisher, it’s ineffective,” Conn said. “A lot of people think ‘I’ll just grab the kitchen fire extinguisher and I’m safe.’ Well, no. You want water on the spot.”
4.) Know your product is legitimate.
Shooting fireworks is not a cheap hobby, in fact Time magazine reported that most people who invest in fireworks end up spending in the range of $100 to $300 for private shows, and often into the thousands.
To shave off some of the costs, consumers have been known to purchase fireworks from illegitimate sources. That can be risky.
“One sign whether it’s legal or not, is all consumer fireworks aerials must go up in the air and they’ll produce an effect and a sound,” Conn said.
Not so with to black market fireworks.
“They’ll go up and there will be no effect. There will be a bright, white flash and a huge boom, the kind of boom you can feel in your chest.”
Licensed dealers should prominently display their certification.
5.) What if your fireworks break?
Pyrotechnic composition, or the “stuffing” of a firework is vital to recognize, because improper disposal could result in a fire.
“Many people call it gunpowder, but there’s none in there,” Conn said. “It does look black, similar to coarse sand on a beach.”
The black powder is volatile and Conn recommends it be cleaned up with a damp towel to reduce the amount of static electricity with which it interacts.
“You don’t want to use, for example, a metal dustpan,” Conn said. “The other thing people see is an orange or red or fine dust. That is the clay that comes with the product and that is used with the product so it doesn’t tip over. That’s safe.”