As the local July 4 home fireworks season slowly winds down (and make no mistake, the booms and whistles could still be heard this past weekend), it seems a suitable time for some facts, fallacies and one common-sense suggestion.
Start with the facts too often ignored or never considered by the many who launch airborne explosives from their backyards and driveways. According to the National Fire Protection Association:
• In 2011, fireworks caused an estimated 17,800 reported fires, including 1,200 structure fires, 400 vehicle fires, and 16,300 outside and other fires. These fires resulted in an estimated eight civilian deaths, 40 civilian injuries and $32 million in direct property damage.
• In 2012, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 8,700 people for fireworks-related injuries; 55 percent were to the extremities and 31 percent to the head. The risk of fireworks injury was highest for people ages 15-24, followed by children under 10.
• On Independence Day in a typical year, far more U.S. fires are reported than on any other day, and fireworks account for two out of five of those fires, more than any other cause.
Next, a fallacy: All those high-flying fireworks launched from backyards are not legal. According to a Pennsylvania State Police FAQ, airborne fireworks can only be used with a permit from a local municipality. If you see someone launching such fireworks and feel uncomfortable about it, call the local police.
They may not have the manpower or time to respond to a situation that isn’t necessarily a danger. They may not be able to track down the illegal fireworks in time to catch the launchers in the act. But if enough people report it, municipal officials might decide it merits a stronger enforcement effort. And those setting them off may decide it’s not worth the risk.
Most long-time valley residents would readily attest to the almost relentless use of evening fireworks each year around this time. The explosions may be densest July 4, but they start a week or two early and last intermittently well past the holiday.
Many of those pyrotechnics are of the ground-effect variety and thus legal, if still dangerous in stupid hands. But at least that danger is primarily to the person lighting them. Airborne effects have much broader potential for disaster.
If this is what the majority want, then perhaps we’ve collectively decided it’s OK for police to focus on immediate threats rather than doggedly pursuing illegal fireworks.
If most people suffer silently behind closed doors praying a stray spark doesn’t ignite a roof shingle, or tossing in bed every time they hear a boom after midnight knowing they must rise early for work, then they need to speak up.
It’s simple democracy. Do we believe people should have the right to shake the night with a 1 a.m. M-80? Or do we want quieter streets and dimmer skies?
Those who believe the former already make their vote loud and clear. If you belong in the other camp, you need to vote by calling your police and municipal officials every time you believe the law is being broken.
Oh, and the common sense: Even if we agree fireworks everywhere are OK, can the launchers at least respect the fact that many people have to get up early the next morning to work? Stop lighting the fuses after, say, midnight.