ATF talks fireworks safety, what goes into big Fourth of July shows

Updated: Jul. 3, 2019 at 6:47 PM CDT
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REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (WAFF) - Is your family ready for some fireworks this Independence Day? Crews are gearing up for big displays across the Tennessee Valley and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) revealed more about what goes into the productions to keep you safe.

During a visit to the ATF’s National Center for Explosives Training and Research on Redstone Arsenal, Michael O’Lena, ATF explosives enforcement specialist, explained that there are 600 Industry Operations Investigators across the country work with the fireworks industry from the safety perspective.

"Regulated fireworks come in various sizes, from three inch, all the way up to sixteen inch shells. These are designed and manufactured for professional use," O'Lena said.

Anyone acquiring them, manufacturing them, importing them, or distributing them must be licensed with the ATF.

Industry operations investigators inspect the licensees every three years and go out every July 4th to check on different displays.

"They go out and ensure that these types of products are being stored properly. Part of that is going to display sites prior to the Fourth of July shows. They ensure that the items are properly stored and properly used during that display. It's an important job for public safety," O'Lena stated.

He pointed out the different components and fuses, and says during a fireworks show, everything is run through a junction box. Someone several hundred yards away pushes buttons to initiate the pyrotechnics.

If you come across commercial-grade fireworks, don't touch them.

"If someone in the community comes upon a device like this, there's a very high risk that there's going to be an accident," O'Lena stressed. "Don't pick it up. Call your local authorities. If I were to light one of the devices in my hand and try to throw it, it will go off in my hand. This will kill someone if it's lit in their hand."

O'Lena also touched on consumer fireworks, designed for the general public- the kind you can buy at a fireworks stand.

The ATF's Research and Development Division shared a video to highlight the dangers. A dummy wearing a backpack with consumer fireworks inside explodes in the clip, showing what happens when they're ignited.

“We want the community to have great celebrations, but we also need to make sure we’re being safe. These all have warning labels on them. Parents should make sure that they’re reading instructions. They should make sure they’re overseeing their child’s use of these products. Although consumers can acquire these, they are still dangerous materials,” O’Lena added.

Every year, there are thousands of fireworks accidents during Fourth of July season. O’Lena remembers a little boy who lost his hand. Most mishaps involve burns to the eyes, fingers, and appendages.

“A lot of it’s misuse of the product. A lot of it is not knowing how the product functions. People come into contact with product they shouldn’t have. So it’s a combination of misuse and not having the knowledge to properly use these products,” he said.

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