Planning your own July 4 fireworks show? Don’t do it, experts warn

“The message is please be safe. Please know the difference between legal and illegal [fireworks],” said Anne Arundel County Fire Chief Trisha Wolford. (WTOP/John Domen)
With most municipal Fourth of July fireworks shows canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, there’s a worry that more people will try to hold their own displays this summer, with more preventable accidents to follow.

Every year, accidents do happen; the Anne Arundel County Fire Department handed out a list of nine times since 2013 that kids and adults were injured so severely they needed hospitalization. Some of those accidents left multiple people with serious burns, and sometimes, it ended up causing permanent disfigurement.

“Between Anne Arundel County and Annapolis City, there have been numerous injuries that are hand and face injuries related to burns, there have been concussive injuries related to hearing loss,” said Anne Arundel County Fire Chief Trisha Wolford. “The message is please be safe. Please know the difference between legal and illegal [fireworks].”

In most of Maryland, sparklers are legal fireworks, though that’s not the case in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. Anything that detonates or shoots in the air is not legal.

But, even the sparklers you’re starting to see at roadside stands in D.C. and the parts of Maryland where it is legal can still be dangerous.

Firefighters then put on a display in the training yard of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department’s training academy in Millersville, Maryland, recreating the listed events to show how much fire and explosion could be caused when fireworks were mishandled.

In some cases, the firefighters were prescient when talking about how fuses could be unreliable and not go off when they’re expected — since that actually happened. But, other times, what were illegal fireworks bought out of state were packed into a piece of PVC piping wrong, and it ended up exploding in the tubing.

That’s how five people were injured in 2016 in Arnold, and how a 21-year-old man in Millersville suffered catastrophic injuries to both of his hands in 2018.

“All of them are dangerous,” said county Fire Marshal William Ray. “Every bit of them. They have some type of degree of hazard to them.”

“If using ground-based sparkling devices, please use them safely,” Ray added. “Always read the label. Keep children and pets and viewers away from the device.”

And, though there might not be a lot of confidence that this will happen, Ray said, “Let’s leave the fireworks to professional pyrotechnics so we can have a safe and happy Fourth of July.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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