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Tuesday, June 28, 2011
By John D. Doak, Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner
Most Americans look forward to the Fourth of July for more than just the day off it provides. Usually, Independence Day is also a time for family and neighborhood togetherness, good food, and fun in the outdoors. Don’t spoil the good times with mishandled fireworks.
The National Fire Protection Agency notes there are more blazes reported on Independence Day in the United States than on any other date during the typical year. In 2009, according to NFPA, fireworks caused an estimated 18,000 reported fires, including 1,300 structure fires, 400 vehicle fires, and 16,300 outdoor fires or blazes of another nature. While nobody was killed by those fires in 2009, 30 civilians were injured and $38 million in direct property damage occurred, according to NFPA.
Of course, the danger of fireworks reaches further than flames. The NFPA reports that in 2009 U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated 8,800 people for fireworks-related injuries; 53 percent of those wounds were to extremities, but 42 percent were head wounds. Fireworks injuries are twice as common among children ages 10 to 14 than among the general population.
Due to drought conditions this year in Oklahoma, it is very possible that fireworks are prohibited in your area along with other forms of outdoor burning. At this writing, 27 of 77 Oklahoma counties are under a burn ban, including much of the south-central parts of the state and nearly all of the west and Panhandle. Though the idea of a Fourth of July celebration without a few sparklers and firecrackers might be disappointing, there is simply no safe way to enjoy fireworks this year in these regions of Oklahoma, and fireworks should not be a part of your Independence Day celebration.
Elsewhere, though the wildfire risk might be somewhat less (yet still ever-present), planning a family fireworks display requires forethought and a strict adherence to safety guidelines.
Planning begins by checking your insurance policy. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners cautions that if you use fireworks which are illegal in your jurisdiction and your home is damaged or someone is hurt as a result, you risk losing your insurance coverage entirely. Even if fireworks are legal and presently permitted in your community, it is still wise to check your policy or call your agent to be sure that your home, family and guests are covered in case of a fireworks accident, or whether your policy calls for any specific safety precautions before using fireworks on your property.
Advance planning also includes choosing the safest possible area for your fireworks display. Pick a place that is open and away from spectators, homes, buildings and dry vegetation. Wet down the area with a garden hose before firing, and during the display, as each device burns out, soak it with the hose or in a bucket of water. After the display, place all used items in a covered, fireproof container and leave it outside and away from homes or other buildings to cool overnight prior to final disposal.
The National Council on Fireworks Safety has these additional tips for the use of sparklers, which are often perceived as child’s play, but do have their dangers:
For an up-to-date list of burning bans statewide, visit forestry.ok.gov/burn-ban-information. If you have any questions or complaints about insurance, visit the Oklahoma Insurance Department online at oid.ok.gov or call our Consumer Assistance Hotline at (800) 522-0071.