Well brothers and sisters, it’s fireworks season once again. Are you prepared for that once a year event? Is the Fire Marshal’s office on top of this? Fireworks have been entertaining people for hundreds of years however it needs to be done safely. Let's go!
Pyrotechnicians (the folks who shoot at large public displays) are also known around the world as one third chemist, one third artist and one third business person. As chemists, their goal is to get the desired visual or audible effect in the sky and that takes many different chemicals. As long as they are in search of the “perfect blue” or the “loudest salute” the Fire Service will always be challenged in ensuring the safety of the community as well as the pyrotechnicians themselves while on the firing line. In jurisdictions where fireworks are manufactured, this “chemical search” should be quite the concern. Dealing with the “human element” in manufacturing creates an unpredictable variable for which all precautions taken cannot compensate. Many accidents/explosions at manufacturing facilities have been caused by human error, no different than most structure fires. There is no special or modern technology in the manufacturing of pyrotechnics. Shells are made by hand and can be subject to poor manufacturing practices, particularly when they come from third world countries.
Review the following information for the purpose of becoming somewhat familiar with fireworks, public displays and related operations such as transportation, general precautions and working with other agencies having jurisdiction. Hopefully, I will spark your interest (pun intended) and you will seek more information on fireworks safety. Yes, fireworks are dangerous but with the proper precautions, supervision and the vigilance on our part, injuries and accidents can be minimized. Good luck.
TYPES OF FIREWORKS THAT CAUSE INJURIES:
9%-Illegal under federal law
1%-Home made devices
85%-Legal under federal law
NOTE: Less than 6% of all injuries occur at legal permitted public displays
(This is the good news. This trend shows that people who use consumer fireworks on their own are getting hurt quite often and those who attend displays controlled by the fire service through a permit system have an extremely low chance of getting injured!)
FIRE LOSSES FROM FIREWORKS:
>Annual average fire losses/property damage is $30 million.
>Annual number of fires is 25,000.
>Noteworthy fire losses:
Alaska-Wildfire-360 structures and 37,000 acres-$9 million
California-2 fires on wood shingle roof topped homes-$2 million
Connecticut-Sparklers on a birthday cake-multiple dwelling-$2 million
Ohio-Fire set in a fireworks store by a mentally ill person
No large property loss however 9 dead-sprinklers were shut
Rhode Island-Station Night Club-100 dead
AGENCIES INVOLVED & THEIR ROLES:
Fire Department: Permits and display safety
Police: Crowd control, routes of travel for fireworks truck, site security
Parks & Recreation: Permits, fencing/security, inspection (if at a public park)
Federal Aviation Administration: Grants permission to use the air space
U.S. Coast Guard: Permits, water way management
Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms: Regulates movement of powders, visits manufacturing plants, assists with accident investigation
NFPA: Offers national consensus standards regarding fireworks;
NFPA 1123 (Public Displays), NFPA 1124 (Manufacturing)
Department of Transportation: Title 49CFR regulates transportation of hazardous materials. Placards and shipping containers.
NOTE TO: Fire Department-Fire Prevention Bureaus
Take time to build a file for each display. Request from the sponsor and/or display company copies of all other permits or letters e.g. FAA letter of permission, Parks and Recreation Permit, Police Permit for staging an event, Coast Guard permits for loading and transporting explosives and most important a “Letter of Intent to Display Fireworks.”
When you get the initial call for a permit, ask the sponsor for a letter of intent and mail or fax them your requirements. The letter should look something like:
>Name of sponsoring organization
>Day, date and time of display
>Location of display (public park, high school football field, etc.)
>Types and amounts of aerial shells. A shell list including size in diameter of aerial shells (Explosives 1.4) and types and amounts of low level devices (Explosives 1.5)
>Method by which the show will be fired (manually or electronically remote)
>Time table of operations: when the truck will get to the town line, set up time, time of the live material load.
>A statement attesting to the understanding of all rules and regulations governing public fireworks displays and that this display will be in accordance with these rules and regulations
>A statement that only materials listed and approved by the Bureau of Explosives will be used
>A list of personnel that who will be representing the fireworks display company, their function and experience.
SITE SELECTION; KEY ITEMS TO REMEMBER:
• Refer to NFPA 1123-Standard for Public Fireworks Displays
• Refer to your local Fire Prevention Code
• NOTE-You must have 70 feet of clearance to the audience for every inch of diameter of the largest shell (See NFPA 1123-Table of Distances)
• Beware of extended finale racks-Your inspection will allow for a certain size shells from the center of the firing site to the audience but beware that finale racks can extend for tens or hundreds of feet. Ensure that the shells at the end of the racks are the right size for the distance to the audience.
EXAMPLE: Your site allows for 8” shells because you have 560 feet of clearance to the audience. The finale racks are extended across the site and the end of the racks (the last shell) are 3.” Provided you have 210 feet to the perimeter of the firing line you’re OK. Beware of extended racks!
• An inspection must be performed by the Fire Official/Authority Having Jurisdiction.
• Double your table of distances from storage of hazardous materials, correctional and health care facilities
THINGS TO PAY ATTENTION TO IN NFPA 1123:
aerial salutes must be labeled “salute”
single salute shells are not to exceed 5” in diameter
single salute over 3”-need 10 times distance of mortar diameter
salutes inside multi-break shells shall not exceed 3” and/or 3 oz.
dwellings, buildings and structures are permitted to be within the fallout zone if the owners give permission and with the approval of the AHJ (An Engine Company on the roof perhaps?)
Mortars may be angled to compensate for wind (Never towards the crowd)
The angled mortars may be placed up to 1/3 of the required distance toward the spectators (Watch this one. What if the wind shifts? What if a shell lets go in the tube? Be careful!!)
Pyrotechnic Operators are to be protected with eye, head, hearing and foot protection as well as flame retardant clothes e.g. cotton.
>Consider escorting the fireworks truck through town to the firing site with an Engine Company in the event of an accident. Use the police to establish the route and assist with the escort if necessary. (Consider charging a fee for the escort, career or volunteer)
>Establish a Unified Command with other agencies at the display site one hour prior to the shot. Maintain Command one hour after the shot as well.
>POLICE: Crowd control, site security, traffic control, egress, ingress and access
>FIRE: Weather/wind/rain, FD Unit staging, members for firing line and monitoring of fallout areas, final clearance from FAA if necessary
>EMS: Prepare for shot and post shot injuries. (Burns for operators, eye injuries for spectators), pre-determine triage site, stationery first aid station and mark accordingly
**Command Units that are committed to the display must remain committed and out of service for the display
People in the fireworks business use the phrase “Have a safe and sane Fourth (of July)” like most others use Happy New Year or Merry Christmas. John R. Hall Jr. of the NFPA was quoted in the 1997 July/August edition of NFPA Journal as saying “Safe and sane fireworks are neither.” In any event, follow rules and use your arsenal of good common sense.
(The instructional program “Managing Fireworks Displays” can be presented at your location. Also note that the manual “Managing Fireworks Displays” by Ronald E. Kanterman is available through Delmar Publishing. Contact the author at MFDCAR1@comcast.net for details on this and many other training programs offered by Gold Horn Associates.)