Public fireworks displays offer safe, patriotic fun

The skies over coastal Delaware will light up over the Fourth of July holiday with a variety of pyrotechnics displays.

But not all of them will be legal.

Delaware is one of only five states in the country that ban all consumer fireworks. That includes everything from the seemingly innocuous sparklers to small fountains to large rockets. (Only toy guns using paper caps and explosives approved for agricultural use — such as frightening birds — are exempted.)

Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island are the only other states where consumer fireworks are completely banned. (The number of states banning all consumer fireworks is actually down from 10 in 2002.)

All fireworks displays in Delaware require not only a license from the state fire marshal’s office but $1 million in insurance. And fines range from $25 to $100 for violations.

Despite the law, each year holiday revelers bring their own fireworks with them to the beach or travel over the state line to Maryland to purchase a supply. Those actions themselves are illegal under Delaware law, since simple possession of fireworks is against the law.

And police officers and South Bethany and other coastal towns routinely bring out the ATV’s and bicycles for the holiday, to try to reach the shooters of those illegal fireworks for citations before they managed to scramble away into the darkness.

Why the tough stance on what has historically been viewed as good, clean, patriotic fun for the family?

“Every year consumer fireworks injure and maim our children,” said James M. Shannon, president and CEO of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a combined group of organizations for health and fire professionals. “Consumer fireworks are a significant public safety concern shared by doctors, nurses, other health care professionals, and members of the fire service,” he said.

The NFPA cited the following statistics to show how significant the safety concerns about fireworks are:

• Injuries: In the year 2003, five out of six (84 percent) of the 9,300 fireworks injuries reported to emergency departments involved fireworks that federal regulations permit consumers to use (formerly known as Class C fireworks). Total injuries were up from 8,800 from 2002.

More than one-third (38 percent) of the 2003 fireworks injuries that presented in emergency departments were to the head, and half (51 percent) were to the extremities. About 20 percent of injuries involved the eyes. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of all injuries were burns.

Of those injured, 60 percent were 19 or younger. The highest risk of fireworks injury was to children, ages 5-9, whose risk in 2003 was nine times the all-age risk; in most other years. Children ages 10-14 had the highest risk. Males accounted for nearly three-fourths (72 percent) of fireworks injuries.

• Fires: In the year 2002, the latest year for which national fireworks-related fire statistics are available, fire departments responded to an estimated 3,000 structure and vehicle fires started by fireworks. Outdoor fires, however, can no longer be sorted by cause, as a result of fire coding changes beginning in 1999. But traditionally, on the Independence Day holiday, fireworks cause more fires in the U.S. than all other causes of fire on that day combined.

In the year 2002, fires started by fireworks caused $28 million in property damage to structures and vehicles.

• The estimated injury risk from legal fireworks was 14 times as high in the states that permitted sparklers and novelties compared to the full-ban states. In states that permit most or all consumer fireworks, the estimated injury risk was 57 times as high compared to states that ban the use of all consumer fireworks.

The NFPA pointed directly to concerns with varying state laws on fireworks, noting the tendency of consumers to cross state borders to buy what they can’t find in their own state due to restrictions like those in Delaware.

“It is very difficult to enforce restrictions on fireworks use through state laws because residents of a state that prohibits fireworks can often cross a state border to buy the devices. Every year, for example, people from Massachusetts drive into neighboring New Hampshire to buy fireworks from retail stands that set up near the border.”

In contrast to Delaware’s ban, in neighboring Maryland the law allows consumers to possess and use sparklers; “non-aerial, non-explosive, ground-based” devices and small explosives like paper-wrapped snappers and “snakes.”

And many of those who would shy away from handing a child a Roman candle or M-80 (the latter is now considered a federally banned explosive of a type still responsible for one third of all “fireworks” injuries) will overlook Delaware’s law to break out a package of sparklers for fun on the Fourth of July. Indeed a nostalgic scene from the 2006 live-action adaptation of “Charlotte’s Web” featured children running with sparklers.

But safety experts at the National Council on Fireworks Safety warn that fireworks of any variety should never be given to children, while representatives of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission specify: “Sparklers, considered by many the ideal ‘safe’ firework for the young, burn at very high temperatures and can easily ignite clothing. Children cannot understand the danger involved and cannot act appropriately in case of emergency.”

Despite the majority of states that allow consumers to possess and use some varieties of fireworks, the NFPA does not endorse the use of consumer fireworks and instead encourages the public to enjoy displays of fireworks conducted by trained professionals.

The area will offer at least three such displays, all on Wednesday, July 4.

The pyrotechnics in Bethany Beach, slated to be bigger and better than ever, will follow the town’s traditional noon parade and a 7:30 p.m. concert on the boardwalk bandstand. The town’s public fireworks display is set to light up the skies from the Wellington Parkway area around dusk – approximately 9:20 p.m.

The 2007 Rehoboth Beach Fireworks Show will be launched from the beach and can generally be seen from Rehoboth Avenue, the boardwalk and shoreline. Fireworks launch time is approximately 9:15 p.m., sealing the day’s events after an 8 p.m. concert. Those wishing to attend are advised to consider taking the shuttle from Route 1 at County Bank, beginning at 6 p.m.

Ocean City will host displays from Northside Park (125th Street) and the beach at North Division Street, both starting about 9:30 p.m. on the Fourth of July. Public transportation is available to both locations, with a multitude of music and other entertainment offered prior to the fireworks displays.

One element missing from the mix in 2007, for only the second year in many, is the display hosted by the Dagsboro Church of God, which traditionally capped a daylong event there. The church discontinued its Fourth of July event in 2006, leaving many seeking a new place to continue their family traditions. The events in Bethany Beach, Ocean City and Rehoboth Beach offer several options, all without the danger of illegal fireworks.

Safety tips for public fireworks displays

• Spectators should obey all ushers or monitors and respect the safety barriers set up to allow the trained operator room to safely do his job. Resist any temptation to get close to the actual firing site. In fact, the best view of the fireworks is from a quarter-mile or more away.

• Although it rarely happens, it is possible that a firework component might fall to the ground without exploding. The public should be cautioned not to touch these fireworks. If they happen to find any which have not exploded, they should immediately contact the local fire or police department.

• Pets have very sensitive ears and the booms and bangs associated with a fireworks display can be quite uncomfortable — particularly to dogs. In fact, the noises can actually hurt their ears. Leave pets at home if you are going to a fireworks show.

• Leave the lighting of all fireworks to the trained operator when you attend a public display. Sparklers, fountains and other items that many states allow for use by private individuals are not only not appropriate to use when a large crowd is present, they are illegal in Delaware. Leave your own fireworks at home — the public display will provide plenty of excitement.

• Sit back, relax and enjoy the show!

— National Council on Fireworks Safety