Celebrate safely: a look at proper fireworks usage

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CULLMAN, Ala. – As Independence Day approaches, many fireworks enthusiasts are stocking up on pyrotechnics for their own backyard displays. As these can present multiple dangers when handled improperly, The Tribune reached out to Cullman Fire Marshal Chris Chaffin and Hanceville Fire Chief Rodger Green for some tips on fireworks safety.

First and foremost, the use of fireworks is illegal within the Cullman city limits, except for professional displays with proper permitting, so Chaffin recommends that city residents attend one of the shows at Heritage Park or Smith Lake. The use of lanterns that float through the air is also illegal, and residents found releasing them can be held responsible for any and all property damages. Regulations differ out in the county, especially in and around incorporated municipalities, so residents are advised to call their town halls or look up the ordinances on fireworks. For example, Green stated that Hanceville ordinances limit discharging time to between 5 p.m. July 4 to 1 a.m. July 5.

For county residents who are allowed to set off fireworks, one of the biggest factors to consider before setting them off is the weather. Chaffin and Green both agreed fireworks should not be used in the event of a drought, low humidity or red flag warnings in the fire weather forecast; windy conditions also present a risk for blowing rockets off-course or causing fires to spread faster. In addition to fire hazards, fireworks also pose risks of bodily harm when used improperly or in unfavorable conditions, and the smoke could possibly cause irritation.

Green also offered comments on other hazards commonly seen on Independence Day, sharing, “A lot of people do a lot of grilling, so there’s a big risk of folks catching their porch or their house on fire. They got their grill too close to the house, or they don’t clean their grill properly and the leftovers flare up. Maybe they don’t wait for their charcoal to cool before throwing it out or they have a problem with their propane tank. That’s always a big risk around this time of year.”

Another thing he mentioned was handheld sparklers, which are often overlooked as fireworks: “Lots of folks don’t really think they’re all that dangerous since they’re so small, but those things can burn at around 1,200 degrees. They can cause severe burns, and you’ve got people lighting a bunch of them all at once.”

Chaffin added, “Fire pits in backyards (in the city) are okay as long as they are used for cooking and they are kept in a non-combustible pit, meaning materials such as metal, concrete or stone. As with any fire, these should never be left unattended and should be extinguished thoroughly after use, and they cannot be used to burn brush, garbage or yard waste.”

According to Chaffin, all outdoor burning in the city requires a permit through the Cullman Fire Rescue main office, and not everyone will be eligible for a permit as certain restrictions apply.
While Green also recommended residents attend professional fireworks displays, he offered the following pieces of advice for those setting them off at home:

– Keep children away from the fireworks at all times.
– Set off all fireworks in a clear, open area away from buildings and vegetation.
– Only set off one item at a time, and keep the rest in a safe place until you are ready to use them.
– Keep a hose or a water bucket ready to douse the fireworks before disposing of them.

Also advised is to never set off rockets from a metal or glass container, due to the risk of shrapnel, and launching fireworks from a steady and secure platform.

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Heather Mann