Continued Caution Urged for Fireworks Displays

Derry Fire Chief George Klauber says many accidents resulting from home fireworks go unreported. “If you’re too close you may have a tingle in your ears and you don’t report it, but it may result in a hearing loss,” Klauber said. “Or you get a mild burn and you laugh about it.”

But it’s no laughing matter when the accidents are severe, Klauber added.

With three weeks of summer vacation left plus the Labor Day holiday, area fire and police officials are urging continued caution in the matter of home fireworks. While the displays are gorgeous and the materials easier to obtain than ever, it’s important to exercise even more caution when you’re trying this at home.

Can’t be too careful

“The unfortunate thing with fireworks is, unless it’s severe enough to require medical attention, it goes unreported,” Klauber said.

This year one incident was reported during Derry’s Fourth of July fireworks, Klauber said. A spectator got hit with a piece of spent firework during the town display and it was reported, he said – and the display was put on by professionals. “Fireworks, even when they’re done professionally, can have serious effects,” he said.

Each town has the ability to choose how many categories of home fireworks to allow, or to allow them at all. Derry has chosen to make them legal, Klauber said. Derry does not require a permit, he said.

Brian Johnson, chief of fire prevention for Londonderry, said his town hasn’t had an increase in fireworks accidents, and the number has dropped over the last few years. Johnson attributed this to education.

“The four fireworks stores in town pass out a pamphlet with each purchase, and they have store displays on safety,” he said. In addition, Johnson said, having fireworks legal has produced a better and safer product. This year so far, he said, reported accidents stood at zero.

Hampstead Fire Chief Mike Carrier said he has not seen a problem with accidents. There have been general complaints regarding noise or debris, he said, but accidents have been minimal. Still, “we urge extreme caution,” he said.

Hampstead is one of the towns that has opted for a permit system, he said, requiring residents to obtain permission from both police and fire chiefs if they want to have a display.

“But people here are really cautious,” Carrier said. “They tend to follow the safety precautions.”

In Chester, Captain Kevin Wunderly, speaking in the absence of Chief Rich Antoine, said most residents “take due diligence” when shooting off their own fireworks. When they do have incidents, it’s usually from minors who are not legally shooting off the fireworks in the first place, he said.

Also, Chester residents are a sociable bunch, and they tend to invite their neighbors to their parties, which cuts down on neighbor complaints, he said.

The chief weighs in

State Fire Marshal William Degnan said that while smaller fireworks such as Roman candles and sparklers have been permitted for years, the scene changed in 1999 with RSA 160:C, which made other devices legal that were formerly available only to professionals.

In the early years the state had a “fireworks review committee” consisting of “a couple of public safety officials, two people from the fireworks industry, two House members and two Senate members.” Even the industry representatives voted against some types of devices, he said. But in 2011 the committee’s authority was revoked, and reloadable mortars became legal, he said. That particular device has been responsible for 19 accidents, some of them serious, since it was made legal in New Hampshire.

Earlier this summer, he called for a ban on “reloadables” after two adults were injured in a July 4 celebration in Pelham. Both accidents involved reloadable mortars and one adult sustained minor injuries, while the other had serious injuries to a hand.

The state cannot mandate what to do to the towns, Degnan said, but the towns can set their own parameters, including the times, places and days fireworks are allowed and the types that are permitted. They can have a permit process, such as in Hampstead, or none.

His comments earlier this year were taken out of context, Degnan said. “It sounded like I wanted to see all fireworks banned, which would hurt the industry,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”

While he would like to see large fireworks displays returned to public events only, he’s realistic. “We need to focus on reducing risk through educational outreach,” he said.

But he still maintains that reloadable mortars belong in the hands of professionals, he added. “They are in the top three of the fireworks injuries sustained every year in the United States,” he said. “And they are our top three since they were made legal.”

Degnan’s office also receives complaints about noise, he said. He gets concerned when he has his grandchildren sleep over and nearby fireworks go off at 10 or 11 p.m. It’s impossible for children to get a good night’s sleep, he said. The best time for fireworks is right around dusk, he said, and not after.

The noise of fireworks also “stresses out” animals, Degnan said. And the larger devices can leave debris in a neighbor’s yard, he said.

“People like their fireworks, but they have to be sensitive to their neighbors.”

What’s permissible

Permissible fireworks in New Hampshire include any class C Consumer fireworks excluding firecrackers, bottle rockets, hand-held devices and any device that produces solely smoke. Also, M-80s, cherry bombs and quarter-sticks are illegal because the federal government has banned the production and use of them.

Devices allowed to the consumer include Roman candles, sparklers, fountains, novelties, parachutes, sky flyers and aerial items.

Best practices

Klauber, in Derry, advises thoroughly reading the instructions and reading them again. You need a large, clear spot to discharge the fireworks, and you need it on your own property, “unless you have written permission of the landowner,” he said. Children should not be anywhere near the site of discharge, he said, and he reminded readers that purchase of the devices is limited to those age 21 and older.

“Follow the basic rules, and if you have questions, call your Fire Department or your fireworks store,” Londonderry’s Johnson advised. “You have to be 21 or older.”

And though it should be common sense, Johnson warned against discharging fireworks when consuming alcohol or drugs. “In past years we’ve shown up at private fireworks and found the operator with a beer in one hand,” he said.

Johnson agreed with Degnan that the reloadables pose the biggest problem. Before the reloadables, most fireworks were of one-time use, he said. But the reloadables have a tube the operator can refill four to six times, and that’s four to six times for potential trouble.

“The shell in the tube has to be inserted correctly and it has to be cleared before the next shot,” Johnson said.

Johnson observed that reloadables should be limited to professionals, and not available to consumers.

And if you’re not totally confident, Johnson said, “Go to a public display.”