Before you set off those 4th of July fireworks — how to stay safe and follow the law

Ever since it became legal to buy fireworks in Maine, I swear I hear them all year long in my neighborhood. Somebody always seems to be celebrating something!

If you’re planning to put on a 4th of July display in your backyard, it’s important to know the law in your community. Not all states allow ordinary people like you and me to use fireworks. And even with our law here in Maine, consumer fireworks are prohibited or restricted by some towns and municipalities. Here’s a list from the State Fire Marshall’s Office.

If your community (in Maine) doesn’t have an ordinance that restricts or prevents you from using fireworks, then you follow Maine Law. You can read it here, but in a nutshell, it says:

  • Most days of the year, consumer fireworks can be used between 9 am and 10 pm.
  • 4th of July, December 31, and the weekends immediately before and after those dates, you can use them between 9 am and 12:30 am the next day.
  • You have to be 21 or older to buy, use or possess fireworks.
  • You can not use missile-type rockets, helicopters, aerial spinners, sky rockets or bottle rockets

I’m not your mother, but …

If you’re cleared to buy and use fireworks, I don’t have to tell you to use them wisely, but I’m going to tell you anyway because it bears repeating.

I spoke to Dr. Nate Mick, an emergency department physician at Maine Medical Center. “Thankfully,” he told me, “injuries are sporadic. For the most part, they break down into two general categories: Burns from the heat of the fireworks and then, every so often blast-type injuries from some of the larger fireworks that go off either near somebody or in someone’s hands.

“In worst case scenarios, people have even lost body parts. “Some of the fireworks that are out there are fairly powerful,” says Dr. Mick. “If one of those cherry bombs or 180s goes off in your hand, it can cause tremendous damage to your hand or exposed body parts.”

4th of July sparklers/fireworks

robotonoid / Pixabay

Even something as innocent-seeming as a sparkler can cause a lot of damage, especially to a small child. But who doesn’t have sparklers around on the 4th of July? “They’re fun. There’s no doubt about it, ” says Dr. Mick. “The thing with sparklers is they also burn incredibly hot. With most sparklers, it’s a relatively thin wire coated with the sparkle material. When it’s lit, those things burn at an extremely high temperature. Thousands of degrees in some cases. If a child grabs the burning end it can cause significant burns, even third-degree burn in seconds, even fractions of seconds. I can tell you that as a physician, my children are not going to use sparklers. As fun as they are, the danger is very real.”

Follow these safety tips when you’re using fireworks

The National Council on Firework Safety (NCFS) put together this comprehensive list of important safety tips.

  1. Obey all local laws regarding the use of fireworks.
  2. Know your fireworks; read the cautionary labels and performance descriptions before igniting.
  3. A responsible adult should supervise all firework activities. Never give fireworks to children.
  4. Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Save your alcohol for after the show.
  5. Wear safety glasses when shooting fireworks.
  6. Light one firework at a time and then quickly move away.
  7. Do not hold a fireworks item in your hand.
  8. Use fireworks outdoors in a clear area; away from buildings and vehicles.
  9.  Never relight a “dud” firework. Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water before you discard it.
  10. After purchasing fireworks, always store them in a cool, dry place.
  11. When using fireworks always have a connected hose, bucket of water, or another water source nearby.
  12. Never carry fireworks in your pocket or shoot them into metal or glass containers.
  13. Do not experiment with homemade fireworks.
  14. Dispose of spent fireworks by wetting them down and place in a metal trashcan away from any building or combustible materials until the next day.
  15. Ensure all pets and animals are away from fireworks noise.
  16. With the rise in stress-related disorders affecting American service men and women, pay special consideration to individuals who may be sensitive to loud noises in proximity to your fireworks show.

NCSF spokesman Ralph Apel says, “For me, the most important tip is to have a designated shooter, [who] is not under the influence, [who] has read each firework label and cautionary statement and [who] knows what each firework is going to do.”

Dr. Mick’s most important safety tip is to never, ever mix alcohol with fireworks. For that matter, never mix alcohol with any other potentially dangerous activity. That includes driving a car, operating a boat, a motorcycle …

And one more thing, it’s pretty dry where I live. We got some rain recently, but not enough to lower the fire risk. So, be especially careful this 4th of July — whether you’re setting or fireworks or toasting marshmallows around a campfire. Be careful!

As you know, I’m not your mother, but …

If you don’t live in Maine

The American Pyrotechnics Association has a directory of state laws on its website. Bear in mind that some states, like Maine, may also have town or municipal ordinances. To find out what the fireworks law is in your community, you should contact your local town office.

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. Now she writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.