You want to hear the bang of holiday fireworks, not feel it. And yet every year, thousands of unfortunate revelers do. In fact, the latest report on fireworks from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) revealed that there were 2 fireworks-related deaths and an estimated 9,000 hospital-emergency-room–treated, fireworks-related injuries in 2009— 67 percent of them occurring right about now, in the one-month period surrounding the Fourth of July.
Ralph Apel, a fireworks exec and president of the National Council on Fireworks Safety, a nonprofit organization founded by the fireworks industry, offers these tips on how you can keep your family and guests safe, and produce a great, Independence Day display:
# 1. Appoint a designated shooter the day before
Rum and coke and Roman candles make a dangerous combination. “Typically, someone who’s been drinking decides to shoot the fireworks—they don’t plan out their area of shooting, and they don’t know what’s going to happen when they shoot each item. And that’s a recipe for disaster,” says Apel. “If you appoint a designated shooter ahead of time, he or she will have time to think about the job, and they’ll be much more likely to take it seriously that day.”
#2. Read labels
Apel says the single most common mistake people make in handling fireworks is lack of forethought—put simply, not knowing what the firework is going to do when lit, and so failing to give the firecracker a wide enough berth. Eye injuries are a typical result. (Contusions, lacerations, and foreign bodies in the eye make up 20 percent of fireworks-related injuries.) “Always read the label on whatever you’re shooting,” says Apel. “You need to know the trajectory of the shot in particular, and whether to expect a shower of sparks, which can occur over 6 to 10 feet. Minimum berth for a small ground device is 20 feet; minimum berth for aerial items is 40 feet or more. Shooters should always wear eye protection.” No label because the firework’s homemade? Don’t shoot it.