Viewpoint: Americans are flippant over firework safety

Eighty years ago, people were allowed to walk up with children in tow and feed the bears in Yellowstone. Fifty years ago, seat belts in cars were looked at as a suggestion rather than the rule. Fifteen years ago, bicycle helmets were rare, and the children who wore them were often teased.

But today, of course, no one with any sense feeds the bears, skips fastening their seat belts, or sends their children out onto the streets without a bicycle helmet. These obvious safety provisions have prevented a lot of terrible things from happening.

So why is that we in America are so stubborn about our fireworks?

Perhaps it’s because the fireworks display is so closely associated with the celebration of American independence, or perhaps it’s because people just don’t like being told what they shouldn’t (or can’t) do. But the fact is that fireworks are not just another toy, and anything which involves an open flame deserves to be regulated.

Take sparklers, for instance. Most estimates indicate that a common sparkler (those little, white-hot sparking sticks that children wave around and use to write their names in the air) can run anywhere from 1,200 to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. They burn at the same heat as a soldering gun, an item which most adults would agree does not belong in the hands of children.

The Utah State Fire Marshal’s office has stated that “only persons over age 12 should be allowed to handle sparklers of any type,” yet Utah emergency rooms fill up around the summer holidays with children bearing sparkler wounds on the hands and arms (sleeves often catch fire), feet (burned shoes are a common problem) and eyes. According to the National Fire Protection Association, the risk of fireworks injuries to children was more than double the risk to adults.

With larger backyard fireworks displays, common sense seems to be occasionally lacking. This is not to say that every neighborhood firework-lighter is ignoring the necessary precautions, but it only takes one person in each neighborhood to mess things up for everyone else.

We’ve all been present when “that individual” plays with homemade fireworks and illegal explosives, all under the guise of “celebrating their independence.” Fireworks, like medicine or heavy machinery, should only be used as intended, and when they are altered and modified, their use becomes illegal. Not frowned upon and not discouraged. Illegal. The unlawful use of fireworks should be reported to the police department because it isn’t funny, and it isn’t individualistic. It’s a crime.

It goes without saying that alcohol and fireworks are not a great mixture. Drinking and summer barbecues are a great combination and a more appropriate way to celebrate the nation’s independence than lighting things on fire, but please “designate” someone to abstain from drinking if fireworks are also on the menu.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, on any given Independence Day (or any other holiday during which fireworks are legalized), reports of fires are far more frequent with 2 out of 5 fires being caused by fireworks. This is an avoidable risk. In fact, the easiest way to prevent firework fires is to attend community-sponsored public fireworks shows, which are far better regulated and observed by local fire officials.

When playing with fireworks, it can be easy to lose the sense of their potential for harm. But, just like with the bears in Yellowstone, seat belts in cars and bike helmets on kids, enough people got wise and made the necessary changes to not only keep participating in the activity they enjoyed, but significantly decrease the chances of an accident while participating.