For many of us, the Fourth of July wouldn’t be the same without a dazzling display of fireworks. These elaborate shows of sight and sound appeal to our senses and sometimes take us back to remembering those times spent with family members and friends sitting in a lawn chair or laying on a blanket at a local park or community gathering watching the choreographed spectacle. Fire and emergency departments are tasked with the responsibility to protect the public during these events and must plan and prepare for those times when things go wrong. We must remember there are inherent hazards and risks during every fireworks.
As you read this firefighter near-miss report, think about what discussions you have had in your organization regarding your approach to planning department stand-by events and public displays such as fireworks. Have discussions that reinforce the value of NFPA 1123: Code for Fireworks Display, the use of all available PPE and proper distancing of personnel and apparatus.
“Our municipal fire department is responsible for planning, preparing, and displaying the annual 4th of July fireworks display before an audience of 6,000-10,000 spectators…Just prior to the beginning of the finale sequence of the display, a 4 inch diameter shell detonated in its mortar without exiting the mortar. This explosion caused extensive damage to the surrounding mortars and racks and completely destroyed approximately 12 to 15 racks and about 12 mortars. Several unfired shells in the surrounding mortars were ignited and launched horizontally in several directions missing the shooting crew by very narrow margins…After the display was complete, approximately one and one-half hours were spent inspecting the damage and ensuring no unfired shells remained in the display array. The trailer was left in position until the following morning for photography during daylight hours, cleanup, and storage.
At approximately 0200 hours (about 3 hours later) we responded to a report of fire at the location of this trailer. The trailer was fully involved…”
Fireworks can be unpredictable even under “perfect” planning and preparation. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration classifies fireworks in two categories under its explosive classification; Explosives 1.3 for larger display fireworks and Explosives 1.4 for general public use (Source: www.fireworksafety.com/ffclass.htm). For transportation purposes, they are categorized as explosives because of their chemical composition and fire hazard. The hazards associated with this classification are no less important once the quantities are broken into their various firing arrangements. Consider the following:
- How involved is your department in the planning phase of fireworks’ displays?
- If you participate in the ignition of fireworks, are you a certified display shooter?
- What contingencies are in place when you provide fireworks coverage (e.g., brand patrol, engine hooked to hydrant and handlines pulled, prepiped deluge gun ready for service, etc.)?
- What are the contingencies based on: calculated fire flow for the worst case scenario, or “just the way we’ve always done it?”
- How do you emphasize and reinforce the effect best practices had on the outcome of this near miss? Does the message translate to other events?
Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.
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- USFA Shares Fireworks Safety Tips
- National Council on Fireworks Safety Recommends ‘Common Sense’ Safety Tips for the Fourth of July Season