How to Still Have 10 Fingers on July 5th: a Fireworks Safety Guide

I've thankfully avoided any big fireworks mishaps in my life but I have witnessed enough ridiculously close calls to have a healthy sense of caution around the little exploding things. As a kid I saw my cousin release an M-80 (and this was in the 80's when M-80's were still SUPER strong) from his fingers and then only a second later that M-80 exploded in midair, causing my cousin some pain but thankfully avoiding anything serious. Many years later I watched as an intoxicated person tried to hide his already lit Roman candle behind his back to prevent a patrolling police car from seeing it. It started to shoot off flares into a crowd of BBQ attendees - again, thankfully nothing serious happened. If you are going to play with fireworks (and you probably will) you should know what you are doing (abstinence education doesn't work). Here are some tips to keep your finger tips intact:

1. Have buckets of water nearby and access to a hose - When you are dealing with things that shoot flames you've exponentially increased your chances of starting a fire. You've got to have the tools on hand to quickly extinguish any flame or spark that might jump out near a dry bush or anything else flammable.

2. Designate a sober person to be the Fireworks Czar - You need at least one person who will have sound judgement that can make firework related decisions for the sake of the group. This person shall be picked ahead of time and agreed upon by the group so that when they pull that rocket from your inebriated hands they can simply say, "So says the Czar". 

Ooooohhhhh.... fire....

Ooooohhhhh.... fire....

3. Never, EVER, relight a non-working "dud" firework. - This is actually what happened to my cousin. The M-80 he lit originally didn't explode but the wick went down enough that when he lit it the second time it almost immediately exploded. If you light a firework and it doesn't do anything, leave it alone for at least 15 minutes and then cautiously approach and put it in a bucket of water to "diffuse" it.

4. Let the little ones play with sparklers - This one is probably going to be a little controversial. There are A LOT of articles online warning of the terrible danger of sparklers and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) advises that kids never play with any type of firework, sparklers included.

First of all though, the CPSC keeps warning people that sparklers are able to reach temperatures of over 2000 degrees. This article in Wired magazine discusses the difference between 2000 degrees temperature and 2000 degrees energy. If the sparkler was actually giving off the equivalent of heat from a 2000 degree oven do you actually think you could have your hand inches away from that heat source? This is not to say that there isn't danger involved with sparklers. There are many accidents each year that involve them. You can occasionally find a new "safer" type of sparkler on the market - one that doesn't burn as hot.

But even with those potential risks kids should play with sparklers. With proper guidance and supervision they are a great training tool for how to deal with fireworks and the potential hazards that they can come across. We know that abstinence education doesn't work - when the kids do eventually play with fireworks they aren't going to have the basic safety foundation needed and THAT is when they can get hurt.

With a parent (and bucket of water) nearby, sparklers are a useful training tool for safety

With a parent (and bucket of water) nearby, sparklers are a useful training tool for safety

5. Stay away from "homemade" fireworks, ILLEGAL explosives, and any modified fireworks - Kids, and especially teens, are known to "push the envelope" when it comes to danger and excitement. They might think that if bottle rockets on the ground are cool then imagine if they strapped it to a drone. That is the kind of experimentation that can lead to serious injuries or fires. And be aware that even in areas that fireworks are legal in the US, the really powerful ones like real M-80's are ILLEGAL. 

For the most part, you should just enjoy the professional firework displays that the various cities spend thousands of dollars on. The Fourth of July should be more about backyard barbecues and time with family then playing with a bunch of Chinese made explosives. But, it is also a good time to teach your kids about fireworks (and fire in general) and how to safely interact with them.