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Firework Safety

For more information on fireworks safety, visit: nh.gov/safety/divisions/firesafety/special-operations/fireworks




Fireworks all summer long
Local officials urge residents to use consumer fireworks with caution

07/17/14



 The Fourth of July has come and gone, but firework displays are still hot in New Hampshire.

Public, professional shows will continue to be featured in some local towns and cities, at fairs and Old Home Days and on the beach, and people are still setting off backyard fireworks at family parties, cookouts and waterfront getaways.  
“The summer is pretty steady with customers,” said Emily Pelkey, inventory operations manager for Atlas Fireworks. She works at the company’s Amherst location, which averages about 1,400 customers a day at the peak of summer. “Everyone says, ‘We’re on a lake,  we’ve got a dock.’ … They are excited to make other people happy, to celebrate something.”
But while they make people happy, fireworks can also be dangerous. 
During Independence Day weekend, for instance, two adults were injured, one seriously, while setting off backyard fireworks in Pelham, according to Pelham Fire Chief James Midgley.
With the popularity of consumer fireworks come concern and safety warnings from local fire officials, including the New Hampshire Association of Fire Chiefs and the Department of Safety.
“It’s not just damage, it’s injuries,” said Chief David Parenti, president of the New Hampshire Association of Fire Chiefs. “There are eye, hand and burn injuries from people who misuse them or underage people who use them. … To sum it up is this: We know people are going to use fireworks because they are legal in the state. What we want is them to use them safely.”
 
What’s legal?
Just how popular is buying and setting off consumer fireworks in New Hampshire? 
The statistics are anecdotal. 
“Can I go above ‘extremely’?” Parenti asked. “They are very, very popular all summer long,  especially with the large influx during summer of out-of-staters. In Massachusetts, fireworks are illegal, so they love to come here and use them.”
Local officials are urging consumers to be careful. 
That starts with staying away from illegal products: any type of firecracker or any device that produces solely smoke as an effect is prohibited, and bottle rockets and missiles, which can’t be directed and which shoot off in any direction, are prohibited. Cherry bombs, M-80s and other explosive fireworks are prohibited by federal law. 
But officials say that doesn’t mean people aren’t getting them.  
“They buy them, and there are certain vendors that will deliver anything,” Parenti said. “You can go online and order all sorts of fireworks or there are a lot of [local] vendors that sell them as well. When they purchase them it’s hard to say what is legal and what isn’t.”
Each year, the state’s licensed fireworks retailers go through strict procedures. First, stores must be inspected by officials of the town or city they are in. Inspectors make sure the buildings have working fire suppression systems, that fuses are covered, and that there is a 4-foot clearing at exits, among other requirements. Once the town grants approval, the state must do the same. 
“I have heard of companies being shut down,” Pelkey said. “I don’t think many places in New Hampshire sell illegal items. … Luckily, I think the illegal selling over the years been less and less.”
But what’s legal use differs by municipality. Many locales, including Manchester, Goffstown, Hampton, Nashua and Salem, ban setting off fireworks altogether. Others, like Durham, Greenville, Hudson and Londonderry, require residents to secure a permit before they create their backyard show. 
“[Prohibiting the use of fireworks is] for the safety of the people. We just don’t have the safe distance to allow them,” said Manchester senior fire instructor Peter Lennon. 
When the Manchester Fire Department receives calls that someone is shooting off fireworks, it confiscates them and issues a city ordinance violation. Lennon suggests leaving the fireworks to the professionals. The city puts on a holiday show and the Fisher Cats regularly hold fireworks nights. 
In Concord, where shooting off fireworks is allowed, there’s a fair amount of activity, and there haven’t been any major fires or injuries, said Sean Brown, city fire marshal.
“As long as folks continue to act responsibly and don’t cause safety issues or problems, then we won’t have any [ordinance] change in the foreseeable future,” he said. 
 
Enjoy the show, safely 
Nationally, firework injuries are on the rise. In 2013, there were 11,400 injuries related to consumer fireworks, according to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report released June 26. Sixty-five percent of those injuries — 7,400 — occurred in the 30 days surrounding the Fourth of July.  
It’s difficult to track just how many injuries occur in New Hampshire because the state doesn’t have a mandatory burn injury reporting law like surrounding states do, and the only way the Department of Safety finds out about incidents is when fire or police departments for individual jurisdictions call in, said Chris Wyman, investigator with the state fire marshals. 
But when calls do come in, the injuries reported aren’t just related to the use of illegal fireworks. 
“They are coming from what is considered permissible in New Hampshire,” Wyman said. 
Most of the calls Wyman received were reports of minor to moderate injuries that were “life-altering,” predominantly eye injuries. Last year, one  incident involved a young girl, approximately 10 years old, who sustained third-degree burns on 20 percent of her body after a sparkler she was using caught her clothing on fire. 
Sparklers, fire safety officials say, are deceptive and more harmful in the hands of children than people assume. State law prohibits anyone under age 21 from purchasing, possessing and using fireworks — that includes sparklers, which heat up to anywhere from 1,200 to 2,000 degrees. In 2011, they caused 16 percent of all fireworks injuries. 
“One of things that I see is everyone assumes sparklers are nice, safe fireworks,” Parenti said. “But [kids] drop them and pick them up and can’t tell which side burned or didn’t, so we end up with burns on hands. That is a big concern.”
Another major cause of injuries is people trying to relight fuses of fireworks that didn’t go off properly. Usually, these fuses only burn for a couple seconds after being relit, which may not be enough time for people to get out of the way. 
New Hampshire officials have released a list of precautions and recommendations on the fire marshal’s website. 
The easiest way to avoid injury is to attend a professional display and leave fireworks in hands of professionals. If you are going to create your own displays, purchase permissible fireworks only from a New Hampshire-licensed store, purchase only the quantity you intend to use, wear personal protective equipment, like eyewear and gloves, and always have a form of fire extinguishment handy, like a water hose or a bucket of water. Light fireworks on a flat, level surface and make sure all spectators are at a safe distance when the fireworks are ignited. 
 
As seen in the July 17, 2014 issue of the Hippo.





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