I’ll ‘fess up: When I was in high school, growing up in rural Northern California, we took the truck out to the dunes every Fourth of July with a crate of illegal fireworks and had a (literal) blast. Looking back on it, it’s a miracle that no one was injured, we didn’t start a wildfire and we didn’t disturb any of the environmentally-sensitive plant and animal species in the region (as far as we know). But we got lucky. Thousands of people are injured annually by fireworks, usually around the Fourth, when national exuberance, holidays and alcohol combine to make a potentially deadly mix.
So here are some reasons to leave the fireworks to trained explosives professionals, allowing you to concentrate on enjoying the show.
1. They’re explosive
That’s the whole point, right? Fireworks have been made for centuries from highly explosive components that don’t always perform as expected, even in optimal conditions. They need to be stored perfectly, handled correctly, and set up with care during fireworks shows to prevent burn injuries or unexpected detonation. If a firework goes off too soon, it might burn you — or it might take a limb. Or worse.
2. They contain hazardous chemicals
Love those pretty colors? Those are made with a variety of hazardous chemicals and metals, including lead. They’re gorgeous, but they’re unsafe to handle. Professionals know how to treat fireworks, and how to situate a fireworks show to limit bystander exposure to hazards. As it is, fireworks seriously impact air quality.
3. They might disturb combat veterans
Do you know everyone within hearing range of your fireworks? Combat veterans with PTSD often have a difficult time around the Fourth of July thanks to illegal fireworks displays and gunfire. The experience can be triggering, bringing back memories of combat, and may result in anxiety attacks and setbacks in therapy.
4. They scare animals
People with pets may already be well aware that municipal fireworks scare their dogs, cats, livestock, and other furry friends. But it’s even more irritating, and frustrating, when random fireworks and gunshots go off in the days before and after the Fourth. Pet guardians typically try to plan ahead for the big fireworks show with measures like calming medication, staying at home to keep an eye on their pets, and more, but they can’t plan for your casual backyard fireworks display — be courteous to animals and skip it.
5. They aren’t appreciated by threatened and endangered species
You might live in an environmentally sensitive area with species that rely on a delicate balance. Fireworks could pose an environmental risk — in addition to the noise and the hazardous chemicals they rain down, you’ll also be trampling ground, disrupting the routines of animals and leaving unfamiliar scents everywhere you go. You could disturb nesting birds and denning animals, or trample flowers that are trying to pollinate.
6. They can start fires
Structure fires are bad enough (1,200 in 2011, according to the National Fire Protection Association), but since fireworks are usually used outdoors (no, seriously, DO NOT use fireworks indoors), they’re more likely to cause outdoor fires, which can become wildfires. That goes double for areas like the Southwest and California, which are currently experiencing severe droughts — the whole landscape is one giant tinderbox waiting to go up, and once it gets started, it can take weeks or months to put out.
7. Some people use them indoors
No, really, they do. That’s a monumentally bad idea. The concussive force of explosions indoors can cause hearing damage, severe injuries and structural damage. There’s a reason the military usually aims rockets at houses instead of charging in and then setting them off, and don’t forget that fireworks are rockets. They’re not designed specifically for ballistic use, but they have many of the same features.
8. Many fireworks are designed specifically for professionals
Especially if they come wrapped in plain brown or black paper, they’re designed for people who know what they’re doing. That means they’re designed to make a BIG bang, but they also lack some of the safety features implemented on legal fireworks. You could seriously injure yourself or others with a firework that you’re not familiar with.
9. Pros are actually pretty good at what they do
I’ve seen some amazing fireworks displays in my time — beautiful arrays of color and light, cascading flowers, animals and other shapes, and much more. These aren’t just carefully-designed special features created in the firework itself. They’re also the result of impeccable timing and organization on the part of pyrotechnics professionals. There’s a reason pros make good money every Fourth of July, and it’s because they’re capable of putting on a completely stunning show, and they’re totally focused on their work, which means they can keep a close eye on safety.
Photo credit: Colin Henderson.