Whiz-Bang & Risk vs. Reward: Are Consumer Fireworks Worth It?
Fireworks are everywhere. Next to red, white and blue, they symbolize Independence Day in the United States. Fireworks burst over New Year’s revelers. Fireworks are shot off at baseball games and soccer matches, at amusement parks, at concerts and parades. Fireworks are one of the highest forms of celebration, perhaps the greatest that can be performed publicly and in good taste. Fireworks are the celebratory equivalent of dumping a cooler full of icy Gatorade on the sky.
Unfortunately, there are a number of consumer fireworks available, through legal and illegal channels, and they frequently land in the hands of people who like loud noises and bright flashes and can’t be troubled with details such as safety precautions. Firework safety is a real consideration, and in moments of excitement and celebration, it still deserves to be foremost in the mind of the person lighting the fuse. Fireworks safety is important for the simple fact that fireworks are dangerous.
Are fireworks really dangerous?
There are those that argue the safety record of fireworks relative to the safety record of many other typical objects is a testament to their general harmlessness. According to Laudan (1995), every year there are 12,000 injuries in the United States related to fireworks. Laudan then cites the 1993 estimates of product related injuries by the Consumer Product Safety Commission to put the fireworks number in perspective, and says fireworks opponents need to “lighten up.”
Laudan says those 12,000 injuries per year from fireworks are nothing compared to the 600,000 bicycle and 28,000 skateboard injuries per year. Even aquariums and pet supplies cause 32,000 injuries per year. In light of these figures, Laudan wonders what the fuss over fireworks safety is. He even says that other products are bigger threats to third parties than fireworks.
That may or may not be true. More people certainly are injured by bicycles than fireworks every year. But bicycles and fireworks are two different sorts of behavior. Bicycling, for instance, is an activity for exercise or commuting. Shooting off fireworks is an activity about colorful flashes and loud noises. A bicycle is controlled by the rider (until it’s not); fireworks are controlled by their special recipe determining an order of chemical reactions, as well as the good judgment of the person lighting the fuse (until it’s not). Bicycling serves a practical purpose; fireworks are a glorified use of fire.
The National Fire Protection Association promotes fireworks safety
It’s not necessary to explain all this. Looking at numbers published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) will puts the risk fireworks pose in light. Especially when the fact that injuries caused by fireworks are a result of explosions or fire. According to Hall (2013), who reported on the fire risk associated with consumer fireworks use for the NFPA, most injuries happen to people aged 15-24. The number two age group for fireworks injuries is kids under 10 years old.
Hall says that in 2011 there were 17,800 fires reported that were fireworks related. Of all fireworks-related fires, 1,200 were structure fires, 400 were burning vehicles, and most of the rest were outside and “other” fires. As a result of these fires, eight people died, 40 people were injured and there was $32 million in damaged property. Unsurprisingly, the worst day of an average year for fireworks safety is July 4, according to Hall.
Fireworks related fires in 2011
- 17,800 total fires, including…
- 1,200 structure fires
- 400 vehicle fires
- $32 million in property damage or loss
- 40 injuries
- Eight dead
When it comes to fireworks safety, there’s nothing better than leaving the show to be done by professionals. According to Shreve (2004), it’s harder and harder for pyrotechnic companies who provide fireworks displays to stay in business. The reason is that it’s harder and harder to comply with local safety standards, as they become more stringent. The companies that perform the best are the ones that can afford the insurance requirements to put on a fireworks show.
What fireworks safety boils down to is that fireworks are meant for everybody’s enjoyment. The average driver shouldn’t take a Formula 1 race car for a drive up to the grocery store. The average disposable lighter operator shouldn’t set off explosives. What’s better is if people with years of experience take months of planning and put on a show with an emergency response plan in place. Fireworks safety is about preventing fires, injuries, loss of property and loss of life. A good credo to adopt is “no regrets,” and with fireworks, there’s a big risk for regret.
Hall, J. (2013). Fireworks. National Fire Protection Association.
Laudan, L. (1995). Where there’s smoke. (1995). Consumers’ Research Magazine, 78(6), 36.
Shreve, M. (2004). Event sponsors keeping eye on fireworks risks. Business Insurance, 38(26), 3.