(C. Proxmire, July 4, 2013)
Fireworks season is in full effect as communities throughout Michigan struggle to find the balance between fun, safety, tranquility, and economy.
Cites have been scrambling to keep up with new provisions of state law regarding fireworks usage. Previously local governments had more say in their communities, but in 2011 state legislators decided to encourage more fireworks usage and sales by adopting the In 2011 the Michigan legislature passed The Michigan Fireworks Safety Act, which lifted previous bans on more powerful fireworks such as Roman Candles, Bottle Rockets and other items that leave the ground.
The law also said that if local governments wanted to regulate fireworks usage, they could not do so on the day before, the day of, or the day after a national holiday. This year the law was changed to include a time provision, which many cities including Hazel Park, Royal Oak, Oak Park and Ferndale adopted. Now on the specified days, use of fireworks is prohibited between the hours of 12:00 a.m. and 8: 00 a.m. and New Year’s Day 1:00 a.m. – 8:00 a.m. There is also the potential for a $500 fine for those who do not obey the rules.
David Malhalab, a retired Detroit Police Sergeant, disagrees with how the state legislature is handling things. “It’s the second most stupid law the legislature has passed because it involves children,” he said “It’s a sad state of affairs when they have to grasp for tax dollars at the expense of children and vulnerable adults who are drinking at this time of the year and not thinking about the risks.” (Malhalab also dislikes the law that bans texting while driving, calling it “meaningless” because police cannot tell if someone is texting or dialing their phones.)
Last year Malhalab, now a professional photographer with MNS PHOTO / M NEWS SERVICE, photographed a group of youngsters recklessly using fireworks without adult supervision in Dearborn Heights. He also saw many fireworks stands that were in locations he felt were unsafe, like gas stations or liquor stores.
“If we want to stop fireworks accidents or prevent them from being used at all, cities can have the PDs [Police Departments] step up enforcement at the retail level. A lot of stores are not properly licensed, and cities can pass codes that make it harder to sell them, and harder for kids to get them.”
Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter introduced the ordinance restricting hours of fireworks use in the city after the state made it permissible for them to do so. “Last year was significantly louder as a result of the new state law allowing more powerful fireworks. At times it sounded more like a war zone than a celebration. Not only did we have more complaints, but these fireworks pose a greater safety risk. Mayors from across Oakland County and across the state asked the legislature to give us some ability to control it, so they modified the law to allow cities to limit the hours. Curtailing the fireworks from midnight until 8 am stills allows people to have their fun but also let’s their neighbors get some rest, too,” Coulter said.
Despite noise complaints, fireworks remain a hot seller, and the explosions can be heard regularly through the neighborhoods. Russ Herschler, who lives in Royal Oak, is happy about the expanded selection of fireworks and enjoys being able to set them off.
“There was a river of Michigan dollars flowing to Ohio and Indiana each year. I know. I was one of the people who every year would drive to Toledo, and buy my fireworks. When used responsibly, they are safe,” he said. “When I hear people complain about ‘Fireworks’ they don’t realize that they are actually complaining usually about somebody doing something stupid. ‘I was up till 2am hearing bangs and booms.’ That not fireworks doing that as much as that’s a guy making noise way too late. If not fireworks, he would be the guy working with power tools and the radio on loud in his garage at that hour.”
Herschler, who enjoys classic aerial bursts, skyrockets and other missile-type fireworks, said he is aware of safety and noise concerns. “Fireworks are a fun and traditional part of summer around the 4th. When used responsibly and courteously, they are very entertaining. My dad used to get fireworks from Toledo and do a small show when we were kids. He also made sure we were very safe. We got sparklers and could set off some small stuff with him there. Never on the bigger stuff till we were older. But this also made me very aware of how careful to be.
“I think most of the issues deal with less an issue of not wanting fireworks, and more people not liking people not being courteous of the time or duration of when they set them off. Be aware that if you are shooting things with sticks (skyrockets, bottle rockets) that the stick and empty shell will land somewhere. Plastic ‘mortar-style’ shells pretty well disintegrate. Roman Candles and ‘cake-style’ (multiple shells in one big platform’ disintegrate or are burned away completely when they detonate in the air so nothing can fall on somebody’s head or car. I also always keep a fire extinguisher and fill a trashcan half way with water for submerging duds.”
The Consumer Products Safety Commission urges the public to follow these safety tips when using fireworks:
~Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks.
~Avoid buying fireworks that are packaged in brown paper because this is often a sign that the fireworks were made for professional displays and that they could pose a danger to consumers.
~Always have an adult supervise fireworks activities. Parents don’t realize that young children suffer injuries from sparklers. Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees – hot enough to melt some metals.
~Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
~Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
~Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
~Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly.
~Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.
~After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding it to prevent a trash fire.
~Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them.
The CPSC tracks death and injury resulting from fireworks. Nationwide there are an average of 6.6 deaths per year, and in 2012 the number was at least six. In addition, an estimated 8,700 consumers were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments for fireworks-related injuries.
In the time frame surrounding July 4, between June 22, 2012 and July 22, 2012, more than 5,000 consumers were treated in hospital emergency rooms due to fireworks-related injuries. Sixty percent of all fireworks injuries occur during the 30 days surrounding Independence Day. More than half of the injuries involved burns to the hands, head and face. About 1,000 reported injuries involved sparklers and bottle rockets, fireworks that are frequently and incorrectly considered safe for young children, said the CPSC report.
Photos courtesy David Malhalab, MNS PHOTO / M NEWS SERVICE. Find him on Facebook at MNS Photo / M News Service.