Fireworks not an appropriate celebration
Next week we celebrate our 243rd anniversary of independence from Great Britain. A few weeks earlier, we celebrated Memorial Day, where we honored men and women who had made the ultimate sacrifice. I’m as patriotic as the next guy, but over the years, I have come to dread these holidays, and I can explain my disdain in one word: Fireworks.
Despite what we see in old movies, war is not glamorous. It is not glorious, and it is rarely necessary. So, there’s a morbid kind of irony about the fact that we honor those who died in war, by firing off a barrage of mortars and rockets designed to recreate the violent sounds of war.
In my neck of the woods, fireworks are shot off by neighbors in their backyards, and by so-called professionals who are hired by the city to punctuate community gatherings. During a previous Independence Day fete, the combination of private and municipal rocket fire caused the windows of our house to vibrate, and the constant barrage of scud-like missile activity also caused our dogs to shake uncontrollably. Meanwhile, the noise disrupted bedrest at local nursing homes and retirement complexes, and wildlife fled from their limited wooded habitats and ran nervously into on-going traffic, where at least one deer met his doom. These are all too familiar scenarios across the country and are of particular interest to Chapel Hill-based Noise Free America.
NFA acts as a clearinghouse for noise complaints, and as an advocate for a ban on fireworks altogether. In a 2014 email exchange with NFA director Ted Rueter, I learned that noise wasn’t the only problem resulting from our annual Independence Day fireworks displays. Severe injuries and deaths also occur. That year, those included three small children and an infant who died in a Philadelphia house fire, which had started when a firecracker was thrown onto a sofa on their front porch. Then there was the man from Michigan who lit some fireworks that flew back into his chest, killing him. Ted also mentioned another man who blew his arm off while using fireworks. It’s no wonder that Rueter referred to the Fourth of July as a “deadly and very disruptive holiday.”
Unfortunately, fireworks-related tragedies are not recent phenomena. In 2017, the National Fire Protection Association reported that fireworks caused over 18,000 fires. Those included 1,300 total structure fires, 300 vehicle fires, and 17,000 other fires. That year, fireworks caused over $43 million in property damage, and at least eight people died. Not surprisingly, more fires are reported on the Fourth of July than on any other day of the year, and fireworks account for half of those fires.
According to a 2016 report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, hospital emergency departments treated nearly 12,000 people for fireworks-related injuries, including 26% who were children under the age of 15, and 40% who were under the age of 20.
And, as if we didn’t have enough to worry about, now there’s a new kind of danger involving fireworks. In 2017, Forbes reported a rise in people flying their drones in the airspace just above fireworks displays. When rockets collide with drones, the latter can cause the former to detonate off target and force hazardous debris down onto unsuspecting spectators.
In addition to producing noise and causing fires and injuries, fireworks are also increasingly causing environmental damage. As cited by a May 2019 article in ThoughtCo., studies by the EPA show that chemical residue from fireworks is polluting lakes, ponds and even contaminating groundwater.
That, in turn, negatively impacts on the health of humans and wildlife alike.
Because of noise, air, and water pollution, commercial as well as consumer fireworks displays should be banned, with the caveat that localities can issue special permits for venues that aren’t near a residential area, don’t border on a body of water, and where qualified technicians use nonhazardous materials.
Let’s face it; there’s nothing particularly patriotic or even appropriate about shooting off fireworks in celebration of Independence Day, Veterans Day, or Memorial Day. Surely we don’t need to be bombarded with the sounds of war when pausing to recognize our freedoms or the sacrifices of our veterans. A simple parade, display of American flags, a brass band, and some small sparklers are more than adequate to present a safer, quieter commemoration. I just can’t imagine that anyone who died in battle would feel good about the injury, death and damage caused by fireworks on their behalf. That kind of senseless loss only serves to dishonor those we seek to honor.
Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).