Nothing says the Fourth of July like a red, white and blue themed party followed by a stunning fireworks display. Unfortunately, it’s not all fun and games. In the hands of untrained consumers (especially those under the influence of alcohol) fireworks can be dangerous. They can and do cause thousands of injuries and millions of dollars in property damage every year.
According to the National Fire Protection Agency, July 4 is the most common day for home fires, 50% of which are caused by fireworks. Here’s how to protect yourself (and your home) from damage.
Know your homeowners insurance policy inside and out
Homeowners insurance is a type of insurance policy that covers you financially when your home or the property inside (or around) it is damaged. However, homeowners insurance isn’t a blank check that will pay for any and all harm inflicted on your property. Certain types of damage may be excluded, and that means you’ll have to pay for those types of repairs out of your own pocket.
“Whenever a fire occurs, you can be sure your insurance company will investigate the cause and origin to determine whether or not the policy covers the damage caused by the incident,” said Anthony Fusco, president of the Southeast region of InterClaim Worldwide, a public adjusting firm that helps insurance policyholders navigate the often difficult insurance claim process.
If the fireworks were used legally, he added, then most homeowners insurance will cover the damage. This is true even if your policy doesn’t call out firework damage by name. “Many policies are known as ‘all risk’ policies, meaning all causes of loss are covered unless specifically excluded by the policy language,” said Fusco.
However, the damage will be investigated to make sure it wasn’t the result of illegal fireworks use or by fireworks used to intentionally cause damage to the home. “In areas where the type of fireworks that caused the damage is illegal,” he continued, “your insurer may make a different determination. It’s important to remember insurance never pays for loss or damage resulting from intentional or illegal acts.” If you can’t quite figure out your policy, it’s best to call your provider and ask for advice before hosting an extravagant fireworks bash. You’ll never know what will be (or won’t be) covered until an investigation into the type of damage and who’s at fault has been completed, but if the damage is found to be an accident, here’s what Fusco says is typically covered.
If you injure others during a firework’s display, your policy will likely cover those medical bills. Unfortunately, Fusco cautions that if you cause an injury to yourself, your homeowners insurance policy may not cover you for the associated medical bills. It depends on your policy. However, if you have health insurance, that coverage may also kick in to help you cover the cost of treatment.
If your home or your neighbor’s home is damaged by fireworks, your homeowners policy will kick in as long as the damage was sudden and accidental.
“Always remember, insurance is not meant to cover loss due to an illegal act,” Fusco said. “So, if you’re operating an illegal fireworks factory out of your home and it causes a fire, don’t bother calling your insurer.”
Always check your state’s laws
Because your homeowners policy will not protect you from damage caused by illegal fireworks, it’s crucial to check your state laws ahead of time. As of 2018, the APA reports that fireworks are completely banned in just one state — Massachusetts. In three states (Illinois, Ohio and Vermont) the use of fireworks is restricted to only wood or wire stick sparklers or other novelty items.
You can visit AmericanPyro.com to view more detailed information about the fireworks laws in your specific state.
How to practice firework safety
Celebrating Independence Day with a beautiful, booming display of fireworks is an American tradition. But that patriotic tradition can turn into a dangerous disaster if you don’t follow the proper safety procedures.
The official advice — leave the fireworks to the professionals
Lorraine Carli, spokesperson for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), urges against the purchase or use of consumer fireworks in any way, shape or form. “They’re just so inherently dangerous,” Carli explained. “There really is no safe way to use consumer fireworks.”
According to the NFPA, fireworks are estimated to cause around 18,500 fires each year in the United States — and those are just the ones that are reported.
Besides making a commitment not to use consumer fireworks yourself, it’s also important that you don’t attend shows put on by other amateurs. Instead, Carli recommends opting for displays put on by professionals who understand how to mitigate the risks. And the risks are plenty — according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2017 nearly 13,000 people were treated at emergency rooms in the United States for fireworks-related injuries. Of those injured, 36% were children under the age of 15 years old.
“Even sparklers burn at 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit,” Carli said. “That’s hot enough to cause third-degree burns. As a matter of comparison, you bake a cake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. So, you take this sparkler that’s around four times hotter than an oven baking a cake and hand it over to a child. It’s simply not safe.”
Think that’s an overreaction? Think again. Of the nearly 13,000 injuries reported in the report, an estimated 1,200 were caused by sparklers. The same year there was even one reported death related to the use of sparklers.
If you choose to use legal fireworks
The National Safety Council, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to eliminating preventable deaths, also agrees that fireworks displays are best left to experienced professionals. However, if they’re legal in your state and you plan to use them anyway, here are 11 firework safety tips the council recommends that you follow this Independence Day — and any other time of the year.
- Never operate fireworks under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Do not allow young children to handle fireworks.
- Provide careful adult supervision for any older children using fireworks.
- You should never light any firework product indoors.
- Always wear protective eyewear when handling fireworks.
- Only light one device at a time.
- Only light fireworks at a safe distance from others and away from any structures or flammable materials.
- You should never light fireworks in any type of container.
- If a firework malfunctions, don’t try to relight it.
- When you’re lighting fireworks, keep a bucket of water handy in case of fire and to immediately douse any fireworks that don’t go off properly.
- Soak unused fireworks for several hours in water before discarding.
Fireworks are a magnificent American tradition that millions of people enjoy every Independence Day. But they can pose a lot of danger in untrained hands. Your best bet is to avoid consumer fireworks altogether and leave the handling of them to the experts. Play it safe and pass on the tradition of enjoying professional fireworks displays that are safer for both you and your community.