Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Fireworks Safety

With Canadian Independence Day just past and the Fourth of July today, I'd like to talk about fireworks and fireworks safety.

The concept of fireworks dates back over two thousand years, and they've come a long way from their origin of paper or bamboo tubes thrown into a fire. Since then, we've added new colors, the ability to launch them, and considerably better reliability. However, at the end of the day we're still dealing with a variety of small (or not-so-small) explosive devices, so a certain amount of care is required around them.

If you are attending a professional display, just stand back and enjoy the show. People who do this kind of thing for a living are very careful, and a considerable amount of planning goes into even a small professionally-run fireworks show.

When setting off fireworks as a private individual, there are some basic guidelines that should be followed for the welfare of all involved:

  • Only fireworks about to be launched should be out of their packaging.
  • One responsible person should be in charge of setup and lighting.
  • Communication between that person and any assistants is essential.
  • Lighting should be done using some sort of standoff device, such as a grill lighter, fireplace matches, or a road flare.
  • Buckets of water, buckets of sand, and/or fire extinguishers should be kept handy.
  • As with firearms, absolutely no alcohol should be imbibed by anyone involved in setting up or launching the fireworks!
  • After the show is done, a walkthrough should be performed to look for any live embers.
  • While generally not needed, some people will benefit from hearing protection during a fireworks show, either public or private.
  • And finally, be considerate of others. Any detonations should be limited to the few days centered on an appropriate holiday and no later than around eleven o'clock at night. Also, keep any pets inside with a comfortable place to hide.

Two quick stories to reinforce the importance of safety when dealing with fireworks:
  1. My grandfather was missing two fingers on one hand because when he was young, he'd been setting off fireworks with friends, and he held onto one for just a bit too long. This is why fireworks should always be placed on a stand before being lit.

  2. Back when I lived in New York, one of my friends on the fire department would have a big party on July 4 every year, including several hundred dollars worth of fireworks. Me, being me, I was voluntold to be in charge of setting up the fireworks. This included unwrapping them, splicing and taping fuses, and setting up ground launchers and mortars... basically, everything except actually lighting them, though I did get to do some of that as well. Franky, I found the setup aspect more interesting and intellectually stimulating than the lighting of fuses part.

    At one point, I turned around to find the host trying to unwrap a package of fireworks. There were several problems with this: it had been agreed that I was the only one who was supposed to be doing that; he was drunk; and he was using a butane grill lighter (with his finger on the trigger!) to try and get the package open. I politely relieved him of both the fireworks and the launcher and sent him on his way. I'm happy to report that there were no other incidents, and no fireworks related injuries occurred that night.

Be aware and be careful, so we can end the holiday with the same number of digits and holes we started with.

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