Fireworks are a traditional way to celebrate July 4th and firework displays are being planned all across the US by local governments. At the same time, private citizens are also preparing their own spectacles for their own friends and family.
However, fireworks are not child’s play. In 2018, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that, “Fireworks were involved in an estimated 9,100 injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments during the calendar year 2018.” About 62 percent of those injuries were sustained between June 22, 2018, and July 22, 2018. Burns, scars, and even death can occur from fireworks accidents.
Property can also be damaged by fireworks as well. The National Fire Incident Association reported that in 2013, the last year with available data, “fireworks caused an estimated 15,600 reported fires in the U.S.”
Kirk A. Guidry, Sr. of Dué Guidry Piedrahita Andrews, L.C. explains that fireworks “have the potential to harm people, and because they are used for entertainment, many folks who use them don’t have a sense of the danger if they are used improperly or if they malfunction.”
Here’s some important information about fireworks and safety for July 4th.
What Can Be Considered Fireworks?
Fireworks are explosive devices that are regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The ATF classifies fireworks into three categories: “display fireworks," "consumer fireworks," and "articles pyrotechnic." Display fireworks are “large fireworks used in fireworks display shows, generally under the supervision of a trained pyrotechnician.” Consumer fireworks are categorized as “small fireworks usually sold at stands around the Fourth of July holiday. These include some small devices designed to produce audible effects, ground devices containing 50 mg or less of flash powder, and aerial devices containing 130 mg or less of flash powder.” Articles pyrotechnic are designed “for professional use similar to consumer fireworks in chemical composition and construction but not intended for consumer use.”
Are Fireworks Legal in My Area?
It depends on your area. Firework regulations exist at local, state and federal levels. The Federal government notes that there are some fireworks considered illegal such as homemade explosives for purposes of public safety. According to the ATF, “Most law enforcement agencies consider devices such as M-80s, M-100s, quarter sticks, cherry bombs, silver salutes, etc., to be illegal because they exceed the Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) limits for consumer fireworks, in addition to being banned by many States.”
States have their own regulations about fireworks. Three states, Illinois, Ohio, and Vermont, have strict restrictions on people using and purchasing fireworks. For instance, Illinois requires applicants to have permits and liability insurance for firework displays, like local government celebrations. People found in violation of the law in Illinois could be charged with a class A misdemeanor. However, there are specific items not considered fireworks in Illinois, like sparklers, smoke devices, and snappers. Other states, like Massachusetts, have a complete ban on even these items. Moreover, it’s still a violation of the law to bring fireworks over state lines to places that are illegal. Local governments may also have their own laws. In Louisiana, Parishes (or counties) have their own regulations and prohibitions about fireworks, such as in East Baton Rouge Parish where all fireworks are prohibited.
Consider Leaving Fireworks to the Professionals
Since fireworks are explosive devices, there are significant risks to using them in informal settings. The attorneys at Colson Hicks Eidson reiterate Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida’s advice of: “Leav[ing] the fireworks to the professionals” since local communities “offer fireworks displays for you and your family to enjoy in a safe environment.” Professionals with safety training and expertise can operate fireworks and put on spectacular displays. Moreover, informal firework displays can be extremely upsetting for pets, children, and your neighbors.
Safety Tips for Working With Fireworks
If you decide to have an informal fireworks display, make sure to check the local laws in your area. Moreover, make sure to follow instructions to keep your friends and family safe. Guidry advises:
- Find out if fireworks are legal in your area.
- Follow to the letter the warnings and instructions that come with fireworks.
- Keep a minimum distance from the fireworks.
- When setting off fireworks, make sure they are on a level surface.
- Don’t let children play with fireworks.
Additionally, parents should always supervise children around fireworks and no one should ever throw a firework at another person or animal.
What Should I Do If I'm Hurt by Fireworks?
If you or a family member is injured, you should first consider seeking medical care depending on the severity of the injury. If you are injured or property is damaged because of a malfunctioning firework, you may want to hire an attorney. Lawsuits about malfunctioning fireworks can be brought against the manufacturer. Guidry explains that many manufacturers are outside of the US, (mostly China) so it’s difficult to bring a case against them, but claims can be filed against the US distributors depending on the state’s product liability laws. However, a common defense is that the user was negligent in using the firework.
If a loved one or property is hurt through negligence, you may also want to hire an attorney, Lawrence Buckfire of Buckfire & Buckfire, P.C., explains “you do have legal rights if another person or entity was negligent (or careless) and this caused the injury. Lawsuits can be filed for the failure to supervise a minor using or around fireworks, the failure to safely ignite fireworks, or the reckless use of a firework.” Whether it was legally used in a county can also have an impact on the case.
“Injured spectators may be able to hold the person or company setting off the fireworks liable through negligence. Even the person or entity in charge of the show’s organization may be liable for failing to properly supervise the activity,” Maggiano, DiGirolamo, Lizzi, P.C. says in a blog post.
So while you and your friends and family are celebrating the holiday, make sure to keep safe with your celebrations.