A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keven Moore: Consumer fireworks bring risks — devastating burns, fires, and even death

Each Fourth of July, thousands of people — most often children and teens — are injured while using consumer fireworks. Despite the dangers of fireworks, few people understand the associated risks — devastating burns, other injuries, fires, and even death.

When it came to fireworks, growing up I used to think the cool dads and entrepreneurial young men in my neighborhood were the members of the Red, White and 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.

(Click for larger image)

I have long said that the real reason Tennessee 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.

Back home my father never saw the value of spending his hard-earned money on something that would blow up and then disappear into thin air. Being raised on a farm in Grayson County, he had a greater appreciation for his money than I did as the local newspaper boy.

Like most pyromaniac boys, I sometimes would question his patriotism, firmly believing 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 Fourth of July.

I have since tightened up my wallet since reach adulthood and responsibilities, but I still like a good Fourth of July cookout and neighborhood fireworks show. Over the years, I have spent my fair share on fireworks, but it always depends on my disposable income.

I’m not a trained economist, but I am a firm believer that you can measure the state of our nation’s economy by the amount of munitions going off in your neighborhood on July 4. Last year, Americans consumed 254.4M lbs. of fireworks compared to 213.2 million lbs. in 2008. The U.S. fireworks industry experienced unprecedented growth over the last decade and in 2017 display fireworks revenue grew to $885M, up from $627M in 2008.

Today, neighborhoods sound like war zones for three or four solid hours, and it leaves an eerie, thick white smoke-screen, and our dogs with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

Consumption of fireworks in the United States has risen dramatically during the past four decades. According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, during this period of unprecedented growth, fireworks injuries have declined dramatically due to industry safety education efforts and the ever-improving quality of its products.

During the past decade, this downward injury trend continues even as an increasing number of states and municipalities have relaxed their consumer fireworks laws. In fact, the injury rate was almost 43% lower in 2016 compared to 2000.

Today there are only two states that maintain a total prohibition on all consumer fireworks (Delaware, Massachusetts) while many having limits. Kentucky has somewhat liberalized their fireworks laws over the years but many local municipalities still have not. The No. 1 thing to remember about fireworks law is if it goes up or blows up, then it is still probably illegal in your community.

Despite the decrease in mishaps — fires, injuries and even deaths still occur every year as a result fireworks. In fact, in 2016 four people lost their lives, 11,000 people were injured and 18,500 fires were started from the use of fireworks.

So if you are planning to host a Fourth of July party this year that involves dazzling your friends and neighbors with fireworks, you should check with your insurance agent and local and state laws before breaking out the good stuff.

First, make certain you are obeying local laws (cough, cough), but if you choose to ignore them, make sure that you still call your insurance agent on your home owner’s policy to confirm coverage in the event of a fireworks-related accident. Some insurance policies have been known to exclude coverage in the event illegal acts from the use of illegal fireworks.

To safely assist you with pyro-manic behaviors, here are a few safety tips to prevent an accident from occurring:

Recommended Safety Tips

• Obey all local laws regarding the use of fireworks.
• Know your fireworks; read the cautionary labels and performance descriptions before igniting.
• A responsible adult SHOULD supervise all firework activities. Never give fireworks to children.
• Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Save your alcohol for after the show.
• Use a sober designed shooter.
• Wear safety glasses when shooting fireworks.
• Use a flat, hard surface like a driveway. Avoid lighting fireworks on grass or in containers.
• Light one firework at a time and then quickly move away.
• Use fireworks OUTDOORS in a clear area; away from buildings and vehicles.
• Never relight a “dud” firework. Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water.
• Always have a bucket of water and charged water hose nearby.
• Never carry fireworks in your POCKET or shoot them into METAL or GLASS containers.
• Do not experiment with homemade fireworks.
• Dispose of spent fireworks by wetting them down and place in a metal trash can away from any building or combustible materials until the next day.
• Keep children at least 30 feet away from where you are lighting the fireworks. Explain to children that fireworks are not toys and can cause the loss of fingers or hands
• Keep a water house or fire extinguisher handy when lighting fireworks.
• Report illegal explosives, like M-80s and quarter sticks, to the fire or police department.
• Never shoot fireworks of any kind (consumer fireworks, sparklers, fountains, etc.) near pets.

Be Safe, My Friends

Keven Moore works in risk management services and is an expert witness. 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 kmoore@roeding.com.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment