In my 70s childhood I use to think the cool dads and entrepreneurial young men in my neighborhood were the members of the Garden Springs Red, White & Blue cartel that ran our illegal fireworks smuggling ring.
Orders were taken several weeks in advance of each July, and several clandestine runs were made across state lines into Tennessee to smuggle back the contraband. These dangerously explosive-packed vehicles would then roll back into the ‘hood where the fireworks were sold on the black market out of trunks at jacked-up prices, with the peddlers standing dangerously close to their trunks smoking their Kool cigarettes.
Back home my father didn’t see the value of spending his hard-earned money on something that would blow up and then disappear into thin air. Being born in Wyoming in 1939 and raised on a farm in Grayson County, Ky., he had a greater appreciation for his money. Like most pyromaniac boys, I sometimes would question his patriotism, thinking that what Thomas Jefferson meant when he said “all men are endowed by their Creator” with the right to “the Pursuit of Happiness” included the right to blow things up on the 4th of July.
I have long said that the real reason the Volunteer state doesn’t have a state income tax is because their forefathers realized Kentuckians had a severe addiction to fireworks, and they were more than willing to feed our addiction to the tune of hundreds of millions dollars annually in sales-taxable purchases.
We all know how dangerous fireworks can be, but with the passing of House Bill 333 in March, 2011, Kentucky’s fireworks laws became less stringent. In addition to the Safe and Sane fireworks (those that don’t fly or explode), fireworks dealers are now allowing firecrackers, bottle rockets, mine shells, aerial shells and other previously prohibited consumer fireworks (known as Class C or Class 1.4G) to be sold. If you ask me the underlying force to pass this bill was to plug the tax revenue drain. As a result fireworks today can now be purchased from brick and motor establishments, roadside fireworks stands and tents here in Kentucky.
With some of my father’s traits nowadays I sometimes question how bad this economy really is as families, friends and entire neighborhoods gather every July 4th holiday igniting their large stash of expensive fireworks. Neighborhoods sound like war zones for 3-4 solid hours, leaving an eerie thick white smoke screen and our dogs with severe post traumatic stress disorder.
But how many of you have stopped to ask the question, who would be liable if you or your teenager happened to damage or catch on fire your neighbor’s home? Yes, their homeowner’s insurance policy would pay for that claim, but they would come after you to subrogate it against your policy or your family livelihood. If you happen to not own a homeowners policy or personal umbrella policy then you better hope that you have deep pockets. Basic homeowners insurance covers fires. But if those fires are caused by fireworks your family sets off, your policy may not cover you if they are illegal in your area, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).
Even if your city or municipality allows fireworks, NAIC still recommends getting in touch with your home insurance company. Your policy may contain restrictions and safety requirements as each are just a little bit different. But it’s important to note though that if someone else (not a family member) damages your home with fireworks, you’re covered whether they’re legal or not.
Every year about this time we’ll see articles and news reports of just how dangerous fireworks really are, giving you safety reminders. Most of the time, many of us brush this advice aside as we wait for nightfall to come, so the pyromaniac alter ego can re-surface under cover of darkness.
According to a recent National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) report more fires are reported on July 4th than on any other day, and more than half of these fires are caused by Americans shooting off firecrackers and rockets from their yards. Fireworks account for two of five of those fires, more than any other cause of fires. In 2010, fireworks caused an estimated 15,500 reported fires, including 1,100 structure fires, 300 vehicle fires, and 14,100 outside and other fires. These fires also resulted in an estimated eight reported deaths, 60 civilian injuries and $36 million in direct property damage.
I can still remember as a child watching my next door neighbor (teenager) accidently catching a huge patch of our backyard grass on fire from fireworks and burning both of his legs as he and his friends tried to extinguish fire as it moved dangerously close to our house.
In addition to putting your home (and your neighbors’ homes) in danger, fireworks can cause serious injuries. In 2010, hospital emergency rooms treated about 8,600 fireworks-related injuries up 1600 from two years before, according to NFPA. About 39% of these injuries happened to children younger than age 15. Hands, fingers and eyes were the most injured body parts — and sparklers and small firecrackers were the most common culprits. “Safe and sane” fireworks are not so safe either. Fountains, novelties, and sparklers are designed to throw off showers of hot sparks. Temperatures may exceed 1200°F according to the NFPA. Proving the fact that fireworks are the riskiest consumer product on the market today.
Five states still ban all use of fireworks by consumers, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission: Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. The rest have varying restrictions on the types of fireworks that can be used. To prevent injuries and property loss from fireworks, the federal government has also banned the sale of the most dangerous types (Class B fireworks). These include M–80s, cherry bombs, firecrackers containing more than 50 milligrams of black powder, and mail order kits for building fireworks.
Since 9-11 guidelines for transporting fireworks and explosives have tightened even more, requiring permits for interstate travel.
Over 90% of all fireworks are manufactured in China but according to recent news reports, border agents are seizing more illegal fireworks than ever manufactured in Mexico. So it’s important to purchase your fireworks from licensed dealers, as Mexican fireworks are much more powerful and have much more of a complex design than those sold legally in the states.
As with these illegal Mexican fireworks, often times they will have substandard packaging or inconsistent charges that can detonate too quickly. To see how dangerous click here.
When I look back to my childhood, those black market exploding firecrackers and bottle rocks would always find their way down into mine and my friend’s hands. Some of us were even known to sneak into unsuspecting backyards where neighbors would be enjoying a quiet evening where we would light fireworks with extra long homemade wicks and then sneak away to a safe distance to watch the mayhem.
As the statute of limitations has now long expired, little did I know that I was risking our family wealth and could have been held personally and financially liable for the damages or injuries that I could have caused. So I leave you with this, make sure you watching your kids and always inventory your stash.
Keven Moore is director of Risk Management Services for Roeding Insurance (www.roedinginsurance.com). He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at email@example.com.