“There really is no safe way to use fireworks, and there’s no safe way to do it around children,” Ben Hoffman, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at the Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine and the chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention, told the New York Times. “Every time you do it, you’re just rolling the dice.” Admiring fireworks from a distance is much different than shooting them off from your own backyard.
“There are always surprises,” Dr. Hoffman said. “People think they know what they’re doing, and they think they know what to expect, and something different happens.”
In 2017, over 12,000 people were badly injured and eight people died in after fireworks-related incidents, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC); 50% of those injuries happened to children and young adults under the age of 20.
“There are a lot of burns and severe injuries to the hands and face including, like, fingers being blown off,” Dr. Hoffman said.
With that image in mind, you might just decide to stream some virtual fireworks instead (turn the lights off and pass out popsicles; it’ll be just like the real thing). But if you still can’t resist the urge to put on your own fireworks show, these safety tips are super important to follow.
1. Never Let Kids Light Fireworks
The first thing a parent learns about fire safety in general is to watch your kid around any kind of open flame, and the same holds true for fireworks. Young children should never, ever be allowed to play with or or ignite fireworks, according to the CPSC. An adult should supervise activities at all times, making sure that kids aren’t left alone around any type of firework, whether it’s a huge boomer, a sparkler, or one of those little black snake fireworks (if you can call them that) that turn right into ash.
2. Keep Kids Far Away
If you have a big yard, you might think that you have plenty of space to safely shoot off your fireworks, but even then you don’t want your kids anywhere near. Fireworks can sometimes get knocked over and shoot backwards, as KidsHealth noted, which is a huge safety risk to the person lighting them as well as anyone standing back watching. Everyone should be at least 500 away from fireworks when they go off, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA).
3. Light Fireworks The Right Way
Now that the kids are super far away, following the proper protocol will at least reduce some risks. You should only light fireworks one at a time, according to the CPSC, backing up immediately after lighting them — and “never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse.” Never shoot them off in a glass or metal container, and under no circumstances should you attempt a DIY firework, according to KidsHealth.
4. Clean Up Carefully
Have a bucket of water or a garden hose handy — you’ll want to douse fireworks after they stop burning to prevent trash fires. As KidsHealth explained, long after the firework has gone off, pieces of it “may still be ignited and explode at any time.” And never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that haven’t gone off, warned the CPSC.
5. Dress Them Right
Any time your kids are around a fire, whether it’s a candle, bonfire, or a simple sparkler, their clothes become a hazard. The APA advised parents to dress their kids in close-toed shoes and snug clothing, especially if they’re playing with sparklers, because “sparklers can ignite fabric and clothes can catch on fire.”
6. Consider Sparkler Alternatives
Sparklers can be a lot of fun, but they’re also surprisingly dangerous. Sparklers can burn as hot as 2,000 degrees, according to the National Safety Council, which is hot enough to actually melt some metals. That’s why if your child gets burned by a sparkler, it can be very serious. Sparklers were the “number one cause of [firework] injury,” totaling around 900 individual cases, reported the CPSC.
With that information in mind, it might be a good time to think of an alternative to sparklers. SafeKids Worldwide suggested swapping them out for glow sticks; you could also use colored tissue paper to cover the end of a flashlight and let the kids have “lightsaber” fights. Anything to keep the fire away.
7. Make Sure They’re Legal
Your city may put on a big fireworks display, but that doesn’t mean you’re legally allowed to do one yourself. Every state has its own set of rules and regulations when it comes to fireworks, ranging from basically anything goes to prohibiting anything that shoots off into the sky. (Additionally, most states that allow larger fireworks stipulate that you must be at least 18 years old to purchase and use them.) Illegal fireworks can be more dangerous; for example, the CPSC warned against buying fireworks “packaged in brown paper because this is often a sign that the fireworks were made for professional displays and that they could pose a danger to consumers.” You can find your state’s laws here.