Public fireworks displays offer safe fun

The skies over coastal Delaware will light up over the holiday weekend 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.

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.

22; 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.

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 two such displays, both on Monday, July 4.

The pyrotechnics in Bethany Beach will follow the town’s traditional noon parade and a 7:30 p.m. concert. The town’s public fireworks display is set to light up the skies from the Wellington Parkway are around dusk — approximately 9:20 p.m.

A display hosted by the Dagsboro Church of God will cap a daylong event, also moving to the skies shortly after dusk — again, approximately 9:20 p.m.