Save the Fireworks: Teach Safety

When I think of America, I think of my friends and family. I think of the freedom to cruise down highways, deciding where to turn next as I drive. I think about good times at the Lake of Ozarks. I think about the Royals and the Chiefs, and how they would win if only I could yell a little bit louder.

All of my laughter, all of my love has come from here — from America. Tears well up in my eyes as I think about how much I love my city, my state and my country. I am so lucky to live here.

I am not alone when I say that when I think of America, I also think about the Fourth of July and shooting off fireworks. Sadly, there are many communities throughout the country that have decreed fireworks illegal. While I understand the rationale behind this, I do not agree with the end result. Banning fireworks smacks of banning my patriotism.

While the sale and use of fireworks has been outlawed in many communities in the Kansas City metropolitan area, Riverside is not one of them. Since Gordon Fowlston took over as fire chief there two years ago, he has begun to enforce the ordinances already on the books, but he has not sought the elimination of private firework use.

“Fireworks don’t kill or hurt people,” Fowlston said. “Guns don’t kill or hurt people. Cars don’t kill or hurt people.  There’s always a human being connected.”

Instead, Fowlston has tried to find an alternative — fireworks safety training. This is the first year for the program in Riverside; a program Fowlston calls a “unique thing.” Working in conjunction with the National Council on Fireworks Safety, a fireworks trade group, Fowlston provided training for 100 young people recently, while about 50 children deemed too young sat and listened to the program with their parents. Despite the wet, overcast day, Fowlston thought the inaugural program was a success.

“I think from what I can tell this program is unique,” he said, “in the sense that we are trying to be more proactive than reactive. We are trying to teach people how to avoid the injuries, instead of just treating them.”

It seems to me that so much of what government does, whether city councils, school boards, or police and fire departments, is reactive instead of proactive. It is refreshing to see when a public entity adopts the latter approach, as Fowlston has.

The relationship between Fowlston and fireworks vendors has not been an easy one. Fowlston admits that he got off to a rocky start with the vendors, who have been a big source of revenue for the city over the years, between the $1,500 vendor licensing fee and the sales tax generated.

“When I came on board two years ago, I started enforcing fire codes and fireworks codes that were not being enforced,” Fowlston said. “There’s been a lot of tension, but that is why I tried to team up with them and promote the safety of it, which in turn promotes our vendors.”

In a display of mutual understanding and cooperation, the vendors contributed all of the fireworks used during the fireworks safety training program. This worked out to be a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Fowlston said the banning of fireworks should be a choice that each city makes for itself. He does believe that many cities make a mistake when they try to ban certain commercial fireworks, but not others.

“It’s all or nothing,” Fowlston said. “We do have an ordinance banning bottle rockets. It is an enforcement nightmare.”

While the use of fireworks is allowed in the city in which I live, Lee’s Summit, “each household discharging fireworks within the city limits” is expected to have a permit which can be obtained for free from an authorized vendor or city hall. Fireworks can only be shot off July 2-4.

The city does ban the use of “rockets on a stick,” “Roman candles” and “missiles with fins or rudders for the purpose of achieving aerodynamic flight.” (www.lees-summit.mo.us/content/fire14.cfm) One, I did not know any of these rules and, two, who knew the Fourth of July was so complex.

I imagine all of this is also an “enforcement nightmare,” as Fowlston so aptly stated. I’ve shot off fireworks frequently and did not know I needed a permit. Whoops, I better throw those missiles back and hope any flight they achieve is not quite aerodynamic.   

Out of the 31 cities considered part of the Kansas City metropolitan area, fireworks are legal in only 14 of them, 10 of which are on the Missouri side and four in Kansas. One of the communities counted on the Kansas side, Shawnee, only allows snakes and caps to be sold or used.

In the remaining 17 metropolitan cities, the use and sale of fireworks is banned outright. This includes some of the more populous communities such as Kansas City proper, Grandview, Raytown and Independence on the Missouri side and Overland Park, Olathe, Leawood and Prairie Village in Kansas. (www.kmbc.com/holidays/9432613/detail.html)

Many cities justify their ban on fireworks by using statistics. They back up the laws they have passed with numbers showing how many people are injured and how much property damage is done because of fireworks.

It is laudable to attempt to keep someone from getting hurt or a home from burning down. It is laughable to attempt this by banning fireworks, as people who want to shoot fireworks will either do so despite the law or will simply go to a nearby community to celebrate the holiday where fireworks are legal.

INJURIES — According to the 2007 Fireworks Annual Report prepared by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, fireworks were involved in an estimated 9,800 injuries treated in emergency rooms, with 6,300 of those occurring between June 22 and July 22. Children under 15 accounted for 42 percent of the injuries, with sparklers being the most likely type of firework to cause harm. Of those taken to emergency rooms for fireworks injuries, 95 percent were simply treated and released. The number one reason listed as the cause of injury was misuse of fireworks. (www.cpsc.gov/LIBRARY/2007fwreport.pdf)

“A lot of the injuries you see are from illegal things such as M-80s,” Fire Chief Fowlston said. “Also, drinking and fireworks don’t mix the same as drinking and driving or drinking and shooting guns don’t mix.

“If you’re going to shoot off fireworks, you should just do it correctly. This won’t prevent injury in every case, but it will most of the time,” he said.

As the use of fireworks has dramatically increased over the years, the percentage of injuries has actually plunged, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. (http://www.americanpyro.com/press/facts/FireworksRelatedInjuryRates.pdf) In 1977, Americans consumed more than 32 million pounds of fireworks with 8,300 reported injuries, a rate of 38.3 injuries per 100,000 pounds. In 2007, the pounds of fireworks used had skyrocketed to more than 265 million with 9,800 reported injuries. While this was a higher number of injuries, it was only 3.7 injuries per 100,000 pounds of fireworks, a decrease of 34.6 injuries per 100,000 pounds.

FIRES CAUSING PROPERTY DAMAGE — Based on a 2001 report compiled by the United States Fire Administration (www.usfa.dhs.gov/downloads/pdf/tfrs/v1i7-508.pdf), “fireworks fires cause approximately $15 million in property loss, injure 50, and kill 15 annually.” The report states that 57 percent of fireworks fires occur in July, with nearly 20 percent on July 4 itself. The vast majority of the fires are in “open fields or vacant lots,” according to the report.

To some, these numbers might seem mind-boggling. It is easy to see why cities would rush to ban something that clearly is so dangerous. After all, the citizens must be protected from everyone, including themselves.

The numbers seem less weighty when one considers other circumstances that cause injury or property damage. The leading cause of injury to children is playground accidents, with 150,000 five- to 14-year-olds winding up in emergency rooms each year. (http://www.productliabilitylawblog.com/2009/06/playground_accidents_are_leadi.html) In another report written by the United States Fire Administration, lightning causes 17,400 fires each year, resulting in a whopping total of $138 million in property damage. (http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/downloads/pdf/tfrs/v2i6.pdf)

These numbers lend a little less credence to the “fireworks problem.” Anyone can make anything sound big, bad and dangerous with statistics, just like I can make myself look gigantic in a photograph with the Eiffel Tower in the background. It is all about perspective.

I believe Fire Chief Fowlston has hit on the right path. He offers everyone the chance to learn how to be safe while still enjoying the right to shoot off their own fireworks, instead of just punishing those who are trying to show off their patriotism. The fireworks safety training course is a great example of a proactive approach that should be emulated by other communities throughout the area and the country, thus lessening the need for an outright ban on all consumer fireworks.

Communities who ban the private sale and use of fireworks will often point to their public displays as a fun and safe alternative. I enjoy these gigantic displays as much as anyone. Even if it was legal, I could never afford to purchase such awe-inspiring pyrotechnics as these. I love community fireworks displays. But, I also love shooting off $60 worth or so of my own fireworks.

The large, public displays are like professional football games. They are very fun events to watch and at which to cheer. Every once in awhile, however, I like to play the game myself. Is there a chance I will get hurt? Yes, that chance most certainly exists, in football, fireworks and nearly any activity one can name. If I just follow some safety tips and use my head, most likely everything will work out fine.

Edited by Bre Bivens — Thanks again for all of your help! You are incredible!

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10 responses to “Save the Fireworks: Teach Safety

  1. Proud Mary Entertainment

    Hello,
    New here. Thanks

    Mary Aloe
    Proud Mary Entertainment

  2. Fireworks can be used safely. The pyrotechnics are themselves not the problem. Should they be controlled? I think they should, but only to an extent. It’s the misuse by people that remain the problem.

    The industry can set standards on age appropriateness, and which fireworks need to be supervised. The fact that your article listed motor vehicles is a prime example. People misuse cars all the time, but are we banning them in our towns? We have licenses to drive and supervised instruction for that. Now I don’t think fireworks needs to go that far to be safely used, they can institute a standard, much like the movie industry has. They also need to legitimize the industry as some fireworks do not come with proper or readable instructions of proper use.

    I think the safety training is a good step, but it shouldn’t be a requirement as fireworks are used alot less frequently. It can be done on the town level as a series of workshops given to city leaders or police officers or even an online instructional video. They can hold a community event(have you looked at your local community calendar, most communities have various going ons both for free or for a small amount) and have an officer volunteer his services, even as a paid day to teach those willing to learn. The ordinances should be stricter on misuse, so the yahoos screwing around pay the piper, not the people safely enjoying these light incendiaries by unfair bans. I do understand some areas need to be stricter with the when, where, and why(the dry areas in California for example), but the celebration of fireworks especially on the 4th of July is actually patriotic and pays homage to our national anthem and the days and nights of explosions they had to endure for the country we have today.

    • Vantage Point Productions

      Tim,

      I hadn’t thought of the California issue with fireworks, but that definitely makes sense.

      It is not a bad idea to have an instructional video. Cities could make that cheap or even make fireworks vendors charge everyone who buys fireworks an extra $2 to get it. Not everyone would watch it, but some people would, especially if it was made in a professional and entertaining way.

      I love setting off fireworks and I have never hurt myself or anyone else. So, yeah, take care of the morons and leave the regular, patriotic Americans like us alone!

      Thanks, Tim.

      VP

  3. brittany sparkles nicole lynn mcdowell and emily nicole wagner.((:

    brittany: i love the 4th of july!! its one of my favorite holidays. just bc u get 2 blow up things! but it would totally suck if fire works were illegal. its good that they made that fire works saftey training thing, bc it would help little kids understand how not to get hurt with the fire works that wouldnt be to good. what i think though is some people are really stupid bc they get drunk on the 4th and do fire works and those are the people u normally see on the news. some people just dont have any common sense but maybe if they werent drinking and were being smart they would not have been getting hurt…

    talk to u soon from sparklez aka brittany:)

    • Vantage Point Productions

      Brittany,

      You are totally right. Most of the ones who get on the news and make everyone think fireworks are unsafe are the drunks or the morons. If you misuse anything, it will hurt you.

      Thanks for reading and responding to my articles. I really appreciate it, Sparklez! Take care.

      VP

  4. Amazing, amazing,amazing….. I cant get enough of your posts! i hope you get feedburner up soon!

    10/10!

    • VanPelt's Vantage

      Thank you Rick. That one took a lot out of me, but I actually learned a lot. I thought fireworks were banned in Lee’s Summit! I was excited to find out they are not illegal here on the Fourth. Anyway, I really appreciate your kind words as I start this new venture of mine! Take care.

      John

  5. Excellent article! As a believer in both personal responsibility and minimal government, I’m in complete agreement. Each of the houses we have owned has been outside city limits for this and related reasons. (Yes, fireworks are a big part of our lives; in Texas we can shoot them year round even though the stands to sell them are only open around July 4th and New Years.)

    Government tends toward maximum control and minimum effort on its part. A corollary to this is that minimal effort also goes into truly researching issues and thoughtfully crafting the laws, with results such as the enforcement problems described here.

    My hat is off to Chief Fowlston for his well thought out responses and work. (In fact, it’s off to firefighters everywhere, but that’s another story, or at least a larger one.)

    • VanPelt's Vantage

      Miles,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and opinions about this. I tend to be a minimalist when it comes to government involvement in my life as well. I think it is fantastic you can shoot fireworks off whenever you want (although that would keep my dog in a state of perpetual terror!). It was a pleasure interviewing Chief Fowlston. Now, there is a man with some sense! Take care, Miles. Have a great day.

      Sincerely,

      John

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