A Dangerous Combination

By Tom Kiurski

The Chinese were the first to use gunpowder in aerial displays. Unfortunately, the fireworks were not for celebration, they were used in a war. In1232, the Chinese were in combat with the Mongols, fighting the battle of Kai-Keng. The Chinese troops repelled the invaders with a barrage of “arrows of flying fire”, the forerunner of the bottle rocket.

Although that war has ended, the fire service is presently engaged in a war with the American public. Americans continue to engage in amateur use of fireworks, despite painful injuries and even death. The fire service continues to push for controlling the sale of fireworks, and encourages its citizens to view public displays of fireworks rather than shoot off fireworks at home. Consider the July 4, 2000 fireworks at a neighborhood party in New York during an unlicensed display. A 34 year-old man inspected an aerial bomb that appeared to not fire. The charge went off as he looked at it, and the resultant blast tore off part of his head. That man died that night.

While fire prevention inspectors and other law enforcement officials do their best to prohibit the sale of illegal fireworks, they are readily available to the average consumer. Read the road signs that tell of numerous places to purchase illegal fireworks, and they can also be purchased through the mail and from the Internet. The purchasers often have no idea that the fireworks are illegal. In Michigan, illegal fireworks include anything that explodes, shoots into the air, or spins. Legal fireworks in Michigan include sparklers, small smoke bombs, and stationary “fountain” devices. Keep in mind that any fireworks, legal or illegal, can burn or even kill when used improperly.

In 2002 alone, an estimated 23,200 fires involving fireworks were reported to U.S. fire departments. Children under the age of 15 suffered 45 percent of the 9,300 injuries from fireworks. These fires were estimated to have caused 35 million in direct property damage.

When something goes wrong with fireworks, it goes wrong fast – too fast for fire protection provisions or the emergency medical services to take effect. We must remain vigilant over the sale of fireworks to the public, and continue to encourage only public displays of fireworks for citizens’ enjoyment.

If you feel you should publish some fire safety tips to your community, the following is a list you can feel free to use:

Fireworks safety tips:

  • Never let children handle, play with, or light any fireworks device.
  • Never consume alcohol while lighting any fireworks.
  • Never put your head or any other body part over the top of any fireworks.
  • Light the fireworks device in a clear, open area, away from buildings and cars.
  • Light only one fireworks device at a time.
  • Never attempt to re-light, alter or fix and “dud” fireworks
  • Have close at hand a fire extinguisher, water supply, hose or bucket of water.
  • Never carry fireworks in a pocket, or point or throw them at other people.
  • Never use fireworks indoors; only use them outdoors.

Tom Kiurski is a lieutenant, a paramedic, and the director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. His book, Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators (Fire Engineering, 1999) is a guide for bringing the safety message to all segments of the community efficiently and economically.



Even pharmacists, with all their special education as to the possibilities of danger arising from what is often erroneously styled the spontaneous ignition of chemicals under certain conditions, either through ignorance or through carelessness, are sometimes responsible for fires and explosions more or less serious and traceable to their neglect of keeping apart certain preparations that are sources of danger when they come in contact, although they may be perfectly harmless when they are stored or exhibited by themselves. This was shown not long ago at Brixton, a suburb of London, where permanganate of potassium and glycerine—in themselves not productive of fire—-came in contact in some way or another. The result was a bad blaze. This bears out what Professor Vivian Lewes said in one of his recent lectures on “Fire,” delivered in London before the Society of Arts. He had noticed in the window of a drug store some dry permanganate with bottles of glycerine piled above them. The “whole arrangement looked innocent enough, yet all the while it constituted the possible starting-point of a conflagration.”

Loomis, Wash., has plans prepared for a waterworks.