July 4 came and went with fanfare and fireworks, but no major fireworks-related injuries throughout southern Arizona, or at least none that were widely reported.
While that doesn’t make it any smarter that Tucson supermarkets and roadside tents still sell fireworks all over town although they are illegal for private use in city limits, it could mean a few other things. Fireworks might actually be getting safer or – get this – people might actually be getting smarter about the dangers of such explosives.
Except for the guy North Dakota who had his head blown off.
The North Fargo fatality occurred when 41-year-old Jesse William Burley lit an explosive, believed to be some type of mortar-style firework, which exploded in a cloud of smoke and resulted in his decapitation, according to a report on North Dakota’s Inforum news website.
Burley’s neighbor Chris Hanson, who lives up the street in the mobile home park, admitted he had seen Burley’s stash of fireworks earlier that day and knew to get out of there. He said the fireworks sported stickers that read: “If found please report to the U.S. government.”
Hanson was about to leave the neighborhood when Burley lit off a second firework after the first one exploded with no other side effects but a big bang and visible shock waves.
The second explosive ripped Burley’s head off.
“When I walked up to his body, it was nothing but his shoulders down,” Hanson is quoted in Inforum while describing the scene following the explosion. Local police confirm a man was killed Monday evening in what appears to be a fireworks-related incident. The investigation continues.
Unless they are part of professional display, such as Tucson’s annual A Mountain fireworks show or Detroit’s yearly early extravaganza, fireworks are generally just an excuse for people to destroy things, whether they intend to or not.
One case in point was the Brooklyn teen that lit off a firework inside a “Don’t Walk” sign several years back. While the official outcome of that incident is unknown, it is known that he left the scene screaming and holding his right eye.
Even sparklers can do massive damage, as evidenced by an unfortunate Michigan incident, also several years back, in which an adolescent threw a sparkler in the air only to have it land on a neighbor’s vinyl picnic umbrella. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission’s 2002 Fireworks Annual Report put sparklers at the top of the injury list, being associated with 1,500 of the 8,500 fireworks-related injuries for that year. Firecrackers ranked second with 1,000 injuries.
While the neighborhood did not necessarily go to pot following the Michigan sparkler fire that quickly engulfed the neighbor’s synthetic shade structure, the girl’s summer allowance certainly did. Every penny went toward to purchase of the neighbor’s new umbrella.
But people keep on buying and shooting off fireworks, most of which are imported.
Exploding “Don’t Walk” signs, sparkler-inflamed umbrellas and mortar-style decapitations aside, a collection of statistics covering a 10-year span illustrates an interesting trend. While injuries are ever-increasing, that’s only because the amount of imported fireworks are also ever-increasing.
A chart at FireworksSafety.com, compiled from 1997 to 2007 data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, shows fireworks-related injuries are declining when compared to the amount of fireworks streaming into the country.
For instance, the injury count was 9,800 in 2007, higher than the 8,300 injuries in 1997 yet lower overall when the amount of imported fireworks is taken into account. The year 2007 saw 260 million pounds of fireworks coming in, while 1997 had a comparatively scant 103.5 million. That puts the injuries per 100,000 pounds of imported fireworks at 3.8 for 2007, compared to the 8 injuries per 100,000 pounds seen in 1997.
While specific years might have mini-spikes or lows, such as the year’s 2000 inexplicable rise to 7.5 injuries per 100,000 pounds of imported fireworks, the general trend is a decrease in overall injuries. And no, that does not mean there are necessarily more deaths – although the year 2002 did have four them, two of which were at professional fireworks shows.
And 2011 had the heinous decapitation, perhaps something folks will remember next time they decide to play around with explosives.