Be careful about using fireworks

The Fourth of July holiday is less than two weeks away. But the fireworks already have started.

So it’s time to remind people about the safe handling of these devices so celebration doesn’t turn into calling the fire department or making a trip to the emergency room.

“Fireworks are a risky thrill and are best left to professionals,” Michigan State Fire Marshal Julie Secontine advised. “If you do plan to ignite your own fireworks, remember, you are playing with explosives and if used incorrectly, can cause irreparable injury and harm. Both consumers and certified fireworks retailers must make safety their top priority and responsibility.”

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, fireworks injure about 230 people a day on average and in 2014 accounted for at least 11 deaths. Most of those injured were bystanders rather than those setting off the fireworks, but almost a year ago a 47-year-old man in Walled Lake, Mich., died when a large mortar fireworks shell he was holding exploded by his head.

Secontine encourages people to enjoy professional fireworks displays in their communities if available, rather than setting off their own fireworks. But those who insist on home pyrotechnics should:

– Always purchase fireworks from an authorized retailer, as evidenced by a displayed license, and follow the manufacturer’s directions.

– Have an adult supervise use of fireworks and sparklers.

– Light fireworks one at a time, then immediately back away to a safe distance.

– Ensure people and pets are out of range before lighting fireworks.

– Never purchase fireworks packaged in brown paper.

– Light fireworks outdoors on a driveway or other paved surface at least 25 feet away from houses and highly flammable materials such as dry grass or mulch.

– Always keep a bucket of water or a running garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.

– Douse spent fireworks and sparklers in a bucket of water before discarding them.

Those using fireworks should never:

– Allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks. Children under 15 years of age accounted for 35 percent of the estimated 2014 injuries.

– Place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse.

– Try to re-light or pick up “dud” fireworks that have not ignited fully. Instead, wait 15 to 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water.

– Point or throw fireworks at other people.

– Carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.

– Purchase or use unlabeled fireworks, experiment with or make your own fireworks.

One final note: Along with safety, have some consideration for your neighbors if using fireworks.

In 2011, Michigan lawmakers made it legal for anyone 18 or older to have more powerful devices such as bottle rockets, sky lanterns, and Roman candles.

While local ordinances can restrict using those fireworks to certain hours and certain days – only the 10 national holidays plus the days before and after, and not between midnight and 8 a.m. except for New Year’s Day, when it’s extended to 1 a.m. – critics complain enforcement can be difficult.

Fireworks can leave pets hiding and trembling – along with, more significantly, some former military personnel who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. A petition to rescind the bill drew more than 20,000 signatures in support of curbing the pyrotechnics.

But that’s not expected to happen. Fireworks sales in Michigan totaled $26.4 million in fiscal year 2014, up from $17.5 million the prior fiscal year, according to Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. That generated nearly $1.9 million in safety fees, all of which went to firefighter training in Michigan.

With that kind of revenue, it will be difficult for the state to give up its taste for bright, pretty pyrotechnic displays.

Which leaves it to consumers to curb their behavior, if other powers won’t step up.

Michigan consumers can report illegal fireworks sales by calling the BFS fireworks complaint hotline at 855-345-6442. A list of legal consumer fireworks and novelties is at www.michigan.gov/documents/lara/fireworks_381040_7.pdf.