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Fireworks: Unsafe and insane

By Jay MacDonald ·
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Posted: 10 am ET

Safe and sane? Hardly. Personal fireworks injured 7,000 Americans and sparked 22,500 fires in 2008 alone.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of those who feel otherwise, let me politely suggest that we refrain from the use of personal fireworks this Fourth of July, both for the sake of our homeowners insurance rates and the safety of those around us.

I know, I know: What about the rockets’ red glare? The bombs bursting in air?

Dudes, there was a reason Francis Scott Key included explosives in his 1814 poem, “Defence of Fort McHenry,” on which our national anthem is based: The British Royal Navy was shelling the heck out of Fort McHenry on Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812.

Did he really need to add the disclaimer, “Don’t try this at home?”

Allow me to rain on America’s most dangerous patriotic display: According to the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 7,000 people for fireworks-related injuries in 2008, half of those injuries to the extremities and a third to the head.

That same year, fireworks caused an estimated 22,500 reported fires, including 1,400 total structure fires, 500 vehicle fires and 20,600 outside and other fires. These fires alone resulted in one death, 40 injuries and $42 million in direct property damage.

And 2008 represented a 10-year low for fireworks-related fires!

Sadly, fireworks are not an equal-opportunity hazard; they most often target children and teens (and though I’ve seen no figures, I’m betting a fair number of pets as well). Two out of five Americans injured by fireworks are younger than 15.

Home insurance companies are well aware of our national obsession with pyrotechnics of course, and take that risk into consideration when setting our rates. Thus, unarmed homeowners pay more for homeowners insurance so the neighbors’ kids can maim themselves and each other.

Did I somehow miss the patriotic part of all this?

While you may assume that the fire coverage in our home insurance policy is also fireworks-proof, some insurance companies may balk at paying a fire claim if the personal fireworks involved are outlawed in your state, county or city, even if they were purchased elsewhere.

Public and civic fireworks displays, while hardly “safe” given that they account for 6 percent of fireworks-related injuries, provide a far better way to recreate Keys’ star-spangled moment than arming the kids with explosives that can cause permanent injury or worse.

Personal fireworks are unsafe and insane. Isn’t it time we outlawed them for good?

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June 30, 2010 at 9:37 am

It's unfortunate, but you can't legislate against stupidity and you can't legislate people into being considerate of others. Fireworks are illegal in my city and have been for years, yet my neighborhood sounds like a war zone every 4th with M80s being blown off constantly by parents and their children.

To you non-nanny-state people, did you ever stop to think that the legislation isn't just to protect you, it's to protect your neighbors? I'm afraid to leave my house on the 4th because I don't want it to burn down with my dogs inside it thanks to inconsiderate jerks. I hope their children enjoy the memory of inconveniencing and endangering the entire neighborhood for a few minutes of being able to watch things blow up.

And to all of you nanny state people and other inconsiderate jerks, thanks for making the 4th the most miserable day of the year for me. I hope you have fun possibly blowing up your children while I hunker down inside my house with my terrified barking dogs. That's America for you.

June 30, 2010 at 9:34 am

I don't like personal fireworks, they are dangerous and they scare the heck out of my dogs every year. My husband and I usually have to sit outside with them all night (because they are strictly outside dogs --we can't have them inside due to allergies and asthma in the family) I don't see fireworks as any "rite of passage". I didn't use them as a kid, and I didn't allow my daughter to use them. We went to professional shows and enjoyed them tremendously. If the police in my city would just enforce the laws on the books now I would be happy.

Jay MacDonald
June 30, 2010 at 8:54 am

Hi, Alan. I'm a scuba diver, too, and no fan of the Nanny State. My problem with personal fireworks is, kids don't have the judgment to handle fireworks because THEY'RE KIDS. And unless ADULTS act responsibly and end this rite of passage, we're going to continue to see children scarred for life or worse (yes, there have been deaths) for the sake of what exactly? Freedom? Maiming children isn't my idea of patriotism.

Jay MacDonald
June 30, 2010 at 8:48 am

Thanks for your thoughts, Joyce. It's an interesting point because it's been my experience that there is already a black market in personal fireworks; kids want the M80s and cherry bombs that are sold elsewhere and outlawed where they live. How can a nation that requires bicycle helmets think it's perfectly OK to hand a sparkler that burns at more than 1,000 degrees F to a baby?

Jay MacDonald
June 30, 2010 at 8:45 am

Yes, that's pretty much the elephant in our living room: WE enjoyed them as kids so we want our kids to enjoy them. My contention, as you say, is that our plugged-in kids probably couldn't care less about this dangerous ritual if it weren't for their natural instinct to please their parents and share in their childhood memories. Unfortunately, where personal fireworks are concerned, this nostalgia can cripple or kill.

Jay MacDonald
June 30, 2010 at 8:40 am

Thanks for the reality check.

June 29, 2010 at 6:27 pm

I am a military veteran who was in the munitions career field, so I know something about bombs and explosives. We were trained and we followed tech data consistantly.
I would not accept "fireworks" from the local "tent-sales" establishment, even if they were giving them away. The quality of these types of items are questionable, at best, and to place them in the hands of un-trained persons (of any age) IS insane. Don't waste your hard-earned money. Most communities offer several opportunities to enjoy elaborate fire-works displays that you can enjoy --- totally free of charge. Stay safe!

June 29, 2010 at 2:43 pm

The injury and insurance numbers aren't good, but stupidity is hard to regulate. Not everyone who plays with personal fireworks does stupid things with them. It's possible to have a lot of fun and be safe at the same time. I would feel bad if my grandchildren were deprived of this rite of childhood although people aren't usually aware of the things they never had. The injury rate and insurance liabilities would be much improved by more regulations on stupid drivers instead of on fireworks use.

June 29, 2010 at 1:08 pm

It does no good to outlaw things, that just increases the temptation, expecially in this day and age. I too wish they weren't sold etc, and then people could just enjoy the proffessional displays. But that isn't going to happen and we really don't need any more black market items,nor making things illegal, which enhances the risk.

Alan on Palawan
June 29, 2010 at 11:27 am

I, for one, have had enough of the Nanny State trying to outlaw every possible way that a person could possibly hurt themselves.