August 2015 Bar Bulletin
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August 2015 Bar Bulletin

"Jackass": Fireworks Edition

By Christina Schuck


Now that the Fourth of July has passed in one of the driest summers on record in the state, we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief that some "Jackass" devotee didn't burn down the state with a firework.1

Notwithstanding, the days following the celebration of America's independence were filled with the typical tales of Darwin Award-caliber deaths, tragic accidents and destruction.

The most notable carnage of 2015 was the (drunk) 22-year-old male in Maine who died instantly after lighting - supposedly accidentally - a firework mortar he had perched atop his head. This is the first death since Maine legalized fireworks in March 2012.2 A quick online search of 2015 firework accidents also reveals a Texas man who died after lighting a firework off his chest3 and a 47-year old man killed in front of his family after "jokingly placing a powerful firecracker to his head."4

Two NFL players lost fingers in firework accidents this year5 and a 44-year-old man lighting fireworks at his church with a youth group in Tennessee fractured his skull and lost his left eye when a firework exploded in his face.6 In Washington, two Auburn police officers sustained minor injuries after someone reportedly intentionally aimed a large firework toward them.7

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) bears the grim task of compiling firework injuries into an annual report.8 In 2014, the CPSC reported 11 deaths from 10 separate incidents.9 Four of the deaths occurred in house fires caused by fireworks. Of the 10,500 firework-related emergency department visits, 7,000 occurred between June 20 and July 20, 2014.

In 2014, the CPSC conducted a special study of the injuries occurring within this time period and reported 74 percent of the injuries were to males, and 35 percent to children under age 15, with children from ages 5–9 accounting for the highest rate of emergency department-treated injuries. The most commonly injured body parts were hands and fingers (36%), then head, face and ears (19%), and eyes (19%). Most injuries result from firework misuse or malfunctions. Firecrackers (both illegal and legal) cause the most injuries.

Fireworks also damage and destroy property. Last year, the Washington State Patrol reported 155 fires resulting in $320,240 in property loss.10 Then there is the trash. Washington CoastSavers reported that its volunteers cleaned up 115 tons of "firework debris" and other trash from Long Beach to Ocean Shores following this year's Fourth of July weekend.11

Despite the trail of destruction fireworks leave in their path, outright statewide bans gain very little traction. Just four states - Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York - outlaw access by the public to all fireworks.12 What seems like common sense restrictions to some (banning fireworks when campfires are also banned, for example) are seen as economic threats by others.13 Some think bans are unenforceable or are unnecessary restraints on personal freedom, especially on Independence Day. Others argue simply that government can't regulate stupidity.

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