Celebrating Our Nation's Birthday Safely

The 4th of July is a wonderful time to celebrate America's claim to independence and our "unalienable" rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." When the Declaration of Independence was read to early Americans it inspired them to celebrate, including setting off fireworks, a tradition that has continued to this day.


Fireworks have evolved into powerful devices. It is important, therefore, to educate children on the dangers of fireworks, and to emphasize that only adults should handle them. When used incorrectly or unsafely, fireworks can cause injury or even death.


According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), fireworks caused three deaths and an estimated 8,600 hospital emergency room treated injuries in 2010. Children are common victims of firework accidents, with those fifteen years old or younger accounting for 40 percent of all fireworks injuries.


The CPSC found that burns and lacerations to the hands, face and head were the most frequently reported injuries. About 40 percent of the firework injuries that occurred around the July 4th holiday were related to firecrackers, bottle rockets, and sparklers. Many parents believe sparklers are safe for children, but sparklers can burn at nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to cause a third-degree burn.


In addition, fireworks accidents often result in eye injuries according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. They estimate that one-fourth of fireworks eye injuries result in permanent vision loss or blindness.


Federal law prohibits the sale of the most dangerous fireworks to consumers. Wisconsin law does allow for the sale, possession and use of certain fireworks without a permit. The approved list includes:

  • sparklers not exceeding 36 inches in length
  • stationary cones and fountains
  • toy snakes
  • smoke bombs
  • caps
  • noisemakers
  • confetti poppers with less than ¼ grain of explosive mixture
  • novelty devices that spin or move on the ground

Local ordinances may be more restrictive than state law and may further prohibit or limit sale or use of state-approved fireworks. People wishing to purchase or use larger fireworks devices, not on the approved list, must have a permit, which is granted by a local government unit.


A person without a valid permit may be fined $1,000 per violation for possessing and using fireworks or selling fireworks to a person who does not have a valid permit. Each firework illegally possessed, used or sold may be considered a separate violation. In addition, a parent who allows a child to possess or use fireworks without a permit where one is required may be subject to a penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation.


In addition, the CPSC offers additional fireworks safety tips:

  • Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly. Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse.
  • Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully.
  • Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
  • Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.
  • Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
  • After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water before discarding it to prevent a trash fire.
  • Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them. Don't buy fireworks that are packaged in brown paper because the fireworks may have been made for professional displays and could pose a danger to consumers.

Fireworks are not toys. Parents should educate children on the dangers of fireworks, and emphasize that only adults should handle them. Fireworks, however, are part of the American Fourth of July tradition. So use fireworks carefully and be safe this July 4th.

For more information on Wisconsin's fireworks law, go to the Wisconsin Department of Justice website: http://www.doj.state.wi.us/site/fireworks.asp

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