Safety sometimes lost in the excitement of Fourth of July

Fireworks, parades, picnics, barbecues — and sometimes monsoon storms — are all part of Independence Day celebration festivities in Phoenix, but many underestimate the risks involved with the use of fireworks.

At the Phoenix Fire Training Academy on Wednesday, firefighters warned the public of the dangers of fireworks. Officials said it is important that residents know the law regarding permissible fireworks, which are only allowed to be sold after May 20 and only allowed to be used from June 24 to July 6. There is one other permissible season for legal fireworks — Dec. 24 to Jan. 3 for New Years celebrations.

“We started cracking down on illegal fireworks, especially within the grocery stores,” said Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski.

Some stores sell fireworks that are actually banned in the city of Phoenix, he said. Some cities in the area allow different types of fireworks, so it is important to look on the city’s website to see which ones are permissible, Nowakowski said.

The event focused on safety. Dr. Kevin Foster from the Arizona Burn Center said there is no such thing as a safe firework.

“Just because fireworks are legal, does not mean they’re safe,” he said.

The use of illegal fireworks in the city of Phoenix is now a Class 1 misdemeanor and can result in a civil fine of $1,000.

Phoenix firefighters used several different types of fireworks and explosives to demonstrate the dangers they can pose to people. Using an illegal mortar, firefighters blew up a model of a hand and a watermelon.

“Imagine that that went off right next to you,” said Phoenix Fire Inspector Brian Scholl. “Imagine that went off in your hand. Imagine the damage that would actually incur to you, and that’s the stuff we want to stress today.”

Scholl said that while all fireworks are dangerous, illegal fireworks can be even more dangerous because it is impossible to know how they were made, and they can be powerful and unpredictable. If a firework doesn’t go off, Scholl advised to wait 15 minutes before going near it, then soak it in water for five to 10 minutes and throw it away.

The firefighters were wearing protective gear throughout the demonstration and provided attendees with sparkler safety tips:

  • Sparklers should only be used under direct adult supervision.
  • Never hold a child in your arms if you or the child are using sparklers.
  • Never hold or light more than one at a time.
  • Never hand a lighted sparkler to someone.
  • Make sure that people with lit sparklers stay at least 10 feet apart.
  • Always wear closed-toe-shoes when using sparklers. Burns to feet are common when burnt sparklers are left on the ground for others to step on.

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Safety is often lost in the excitement of shooting fireworks into the summer sky, but according to the City of Phoenix and Phoenix Fire Public Information Officer William Benedict, the following precautions and tips should be followed:

  • Follow local laws — make sure your fireworks are legal
  • Read labels on all fireworks
  • Make sure a responsible adult is supervising
  • Use safety goggles to protect eyes from flying sparks and chemicals
  • Keep a bucket of water nearby for emergencies and to douse fireworks that do not properly ignite.
  • Keep a hose with a shut-off nozzle nearby. The water should be on and the hose should be ready to instantly douse any wayward fires.
  • Be sure people are out of range before lighting fireworks.
  • Never have any portion of your body directly over a firework while lighting
  • Make sure that people with lit sparklers stay at least 10 feet apart. Only use one firework at a time to minimize hazards.

Disposal Tips

  • Properly dispose of fireworks
  • Do not attempt to re-light or handle malfunctioning fireworks. Soak them with water and throw them away.
  • Put all used sparklers and fireworks in a bucket of cold water
  • Dispose of used fireworks in a metal trash can

Benedict also suggested only using fireworks when weather permits because the holiday occurs in the middle of monsoon season in Arizona. That often equates to subpar conditions for fireworks to launch into the night sky, with chances of high wind gusts, blowing dust, low visibility and rain normally part of the forecast.

Audio slideshow: Phoenix Fire Department officials talk about fireworks safety, then blow things up.