By Kellie Murphy-Ringate
Every year when I sit down to write a fireworks safety article, I try to figure out a way to get through to adults, parents, teenagers and backyard entertainers on how to be smart and safe about fireworks.
This year I was inspired by a question from a citizen who had heard the buzz about fireworks during the last legislative session. There was a bill introduced that would expand the states list of legal fireworks to include aerial and audible devises. Most of the media reports about the bill included statements from the Minnesota State Fire Marshal, fire chiefs, and firefighters across the state that opposed to the bill. The bill did not pass and will most likely be part of next year’s legislation.
The citizen wanted to know, “Why are some firefighters so against fireworks?’ I offered him my explanation. I told him because firefighters are usually some of the first people to arrive at an emergency involving fireworks we see the damage that is done.
We fight the fires and wrapped up the wounds cause by fireworks. We see the devastation on people’s faces as they watch flames consume their vehicle, home or barn, we see the fear in the eyes of loved ones as we place bandages over the faces, trauma dressing across the stomachs, or look for the missing fingers in the grass of their friends and family members. We see the dazzle of a fireworks show, but we also see how the careless use of fireworks can be devastating.
According to State Fire Marshal Bruce West, fireworks injuries are up 120 percent since “novelty” fireworks were legalized in 2002. In 2016, the StarTribune reported the number of emergency room visits have been increasing. Is part of these rising numbers due to complacency or the impression that if they are legal fireworks they are safe?
The definition of fireworks according to Webster.com is a small device that explodes to make a display of light and noise. The key word is explosive. Fireworks are explosives that usually contain black powder (essentially gun power), sulfur, and potassium nitrate. Without the colorful wrapping and clever names, they are bombs bursting in the air or similar to a stick of dynamite. In some fireworks, arsenic, barium, or cadmium are used for crafting the colorful display of light. The elements that make up the oohs and ahhs of fireworks can be dangerous and poisonous to humans and animals.
The noise fireworks make, the booms, big bangs, whizzing and whistles, are a basically the combination of a chemical chain reaction and tube size. The sound comes from shock waves, sonic booms, vibrations, and vaporizing heat. These things alone can cause traumatic injuries and death.
This information is not meant as a scare tactic to stop consumers from using fireworks the intent is to educate consumers so they have a different perspective on fireworks and can be safe and smart about fireworks.
Tips to stay smart and safe:
• Purchase fireworks from a licensed dealer.
• Read and understand fireworks directions. Read caution labels before igniting.
• If there are no clear directions on the fireworks you have purchased, use common sense and follow the Smart and Safe tips.
• Do not use fireworks that you suspect have been tampered with, come in damaged packages, or look homemade.
• Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks, including sparklers. Sparklers burn at temperatures at or above 2,000 degrees
• Never place any part of your body over a fireworks device. Approach and light from the side.
• Light fireworks one at a time.
• Light and move away from the fireworks quickly.
• Give lit fireworks space. A fireworks safety zone should be made to give distance between lit fireworks, people and animals.
• Do not carry fireworks in your pocket or on your person.
• Do not hold lit fireworks in your hand or shoot them off from your hands, head, stomach, or other parts of your body.
• Never aim or throw fireworks at a person, animal, building, vehicle, wooded area or combustibles.
• Stay away from a failed fireworks devise for an extended amount of time.
• Never re-light a failed devise and always soak with/in water before handling.
• Never discard any parts of fireworks in a campfire or bonfire.
• Monitor wind speed and direction when discharging fireworks to avoid having fireworks devices blown into trees, on to house roofs, across fields, etc.
• Alcohol and fireworks do not mix.
• When using fireworks use common sense, courtesy and respect for those around you.
For more tips, visit fire.state.mn.us or call 651-215-0500.
Kellie Murphy-Ringate is a Fire Marshal at the Excelsior Fire District