Newswise — As we approach the Fourth of July, communities across the nation are preparing for an array of celebrations and festivities. The traditional parades, picnics and cookouts often culminate in fireworks displays that illuminate the sky.

Unfortunately each and every year, celebration turns to tragedy in communities across the country when accidents involving fireworks scar an otherwise joyful and pleasant day. Dr. Robert S. Fleming, professor of management at Rowan University (Glassboro, N.J.) and a nationally recognized authority on fire and emergency management, offers the following advice with respect to fireworks.

First and foremost, Fleming suggests leaving fireworks to experts with the necessary training and qualifications to properly and safely display them. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) encourages individuals to enjoy the public display of fireworks that comply with the requirements of its NFPA 1123 Standard. This standard strongly opposes any and all use of fireworks by the public. While there are states that have banned access by the public to all fireworks purchases, there are communities with laws that allow individuals to purchase and use fireworks. Informed consumers should be wary of doing so, Fleming said.

National fire incident statistics reveal that in a typical year, more fires are reported on the Fourth of July than on any other day of the year and that fireworks typically represent the cause of more than half of these fires. The NFPA reports that in 2005 fireworks caused an estimated 1,800 structure fires, 700 vehicle fires, 60 civilian injuries and $39 million in direct property damage. Hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 9,200 people for fireworks-related injuries in 2006, and firecrackers, bottle rockets and sparklers are the leading contributors to fireworks injuries, according to NFPA.

While fire service agencies recognize the risks and hazards associated with the public use of fireworks, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other sources offer the following advice regarding the use of fireworks in jurisdictions where allowed under existing laws.

"¢ It is imperative to read and follow all warnings and instructions provided, including those related to proper storage, and to be fully aware and compliant with local laws.

"¢ Children never should be allowed to play with or ignite fireworks. The risk of fireworks injury has been found to be significantly higher for children ages 10 to 14 than for the general population. Although sparklers may appear to be a "safe" firework for the young, these pyrotechnic devices burn at high temperatures that may exceed 1200 degrees F and can easily ignite clothing and inflict burns and other serious injuries.

"¢ When using fireworks, it is important to make sure that the area is clear, that other individuals are not nearby and that the fireworks are lit on an appropriate surface in an area that is not subject to ignition. A water source should be readily available in the event of a problem. Fireworks that have not fully functioned should be properly disposed of after dousing them with water, and attempts to relight these fireworks should never be undertaken. When lighting fireworks, it is imperative that your body is never directly over the fireworks.

The fact is that whether legal or not, fireworks are a risky proposition for those who lack the knowledge and skills to properly and safely use them. Fleming concurs with other fire safety authorities and suggests that all Americans leave fireworks to the experts. He encourages individuals to join their families, friends and other members of their communities in enjoying the many public fireworks displays that will take place during this coming holiday. "In so doing," he said, "you will ensure that your Fourth of July holiday and memories are pleasant and that you and your family and friends do not become the victims of a fireworks accident."

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