By: Karen Piso Nadeau, Esquire
No Fireworks Displays this 4th of July
The fourth of July in Massachusetts has many traditions like backyard barbecues, trips to the beach, parades and enjoying the company of family and friends. The main attraction for many of us around the 4th of July is the fireworks displays in towns and the “big one”- known as the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular. But this year we know is different. The coronavirus pandemic has taken something else from us. According to the Boston Globe, quoting from a spokesperson for Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s office, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, town fireworks celebrations are permitted with a few caveats- displays must be remote, have no organized viewing spots, and viewers must watch them from their own home. Towns are taking no chances where large crowds would likely gather. In most towns, fireworks are cancelled or postponed.
Massachusetts residents looking for some traditional 4th of July fireworks are encouraged to watch from the safety of their own home “A Boston Pops Salute to Our Heroes”, the televised replacement for the canceled Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular. This will air on Saturday July 4th at 8 pm on Boston WHDH TV and Bloomberg Television.
Increased Illegal Fireworks around Massachusetts
Have you noticed the sky lighting up more than usual this past month and the loud bangs at night? Fireworks have been blasting through the night and some residents are fed up with it with complaints up 2300 % this year, according to Boston News 10. It is hard to believe all fireworks are illegal in Massachusetts for private use, but they are. Massachusetts Fireworks Law (M.G.L. Chapter 148 section 39) provides that it is illegal for private citizens to use, possess or sell fireworks in Massachusetts or purchase them legally elsewhere and then transport them into the state. Fines are from $100 to a maximum of $1,000. There is also a maximum of 1 year imprisonment. The seizure of fireworks is mandatory.
Illegal fireworks have been keeping people awake at night. A huge cache was recently seized in Malden according to Boston News 10. There are several reasons being cited for the increase in illegal fireworks. One reason is people have been stuck at home a long time during this pandemic. Legal professional fireworks have been canceled so Massachusetts residents are taking matters into their own hands- literally. People are frightened, losing sleep, babies and children are woken from sleep, pets are terrified, veterans and others with PTSD are experiencing real harm and they are fire hazards, according to Mayor Marty Walsh.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh recently announced a new task force to address the increase of illegal fireworks across Boston. According to Mayor Walsh, fireworks calls to police were up by 5,543 % in June 2020 compared to June 2019. He emphasized it is illegal for residents to use, possess, or sell fireworks in Massachusetts. According to Mass.gov, fireworks are illegal and dangerous in MA without a professional license. The week of July 4th is the busiest time of year for fireworks, and officials warn to leave fireworks to the professionals.
Illegal Fireworks have a Long History
Illegal fireworks are nothing new. Many of us who are parents now and raising our own kids remember people crossing the border into New Hampshire and purchasing fireworks to blast off at home in Massachusetts when we were kids. Most of us likely have stories about watching illegal fireworks displays and fireworks going wrong. I know I do. My sister, brother and four cousins ranged in ages from a preschooler to young teenagers when something went very wrong. I do not know how the boys got the fireworks. I never asked. But they had them in the circle in Medford on a warm summer day. The fireworks they had seemed small and harmless at the time. The boys loved having us girls as an audience watching and screaming as they set them off. It seemed innocent enough. Our mothers were not far away, likely in the house sipping their coffee at the kitchen table and checking on us in the circle from time to time. They were clueless. It was all fun and games until it wasn’t. A firecracker exploded in my cousin’s hand. I don’t think any of us will ever forget what we saw that day. It was like wax melting down a lit candle. That is how we remember his skin literally dripping off his hand. He ran into the house and into the bathroom, running his hand under the cold water. He will never forget the smell of burning flesh. We were so scared. He told my aunt, “Don’t look at it, don’t look at it! Take me to the hospital!” My aunt did look at it. All I remember is her saying, “oh boy, oh boy…”
The trip to the emergency room was no picnic for them. My mom and the rest of the clan stayed behind. He had severe second degree burns and his hand was wrapped in bandages all summer long. He recalls the weekly trips back to the hospital where they had to drain the fluid that built up as well as the scraping off of dead skin. He watched us all summer swimming in the Mystic Lakes and swimming pool while he sat in the shade staring at his bandaged hand. He remembers the physical therapy sessions so his skin wouldn’t tighten up and he wouldn’t lose range of motion and function. He spent hours squeezing a rubber ball to keep his hand and fingers loose. Thankfully, he didn’t lose a finger or have any permanent damage to his hand. That was the last firework the girls watched in the circle and the last firework the boys ever lit.
My brother and his two accomplices (our cousins) recall getting some of their fireworks from a kid in the North End back in the day. The kid got them in New Hampshire. They remember a room full of them. Back then, they said the popular one was called a “birthday cake” where bunches of fireworks at a time shot off. My cousin explained how they would unravel small firecrackers and get the explosive powder buried inside. They would put a bunch of this powder together on a piece of paper and light the paper on fire. This was called a “genie”. It would create a flash of light and a puff of smoke. They explained to me that the fireworks today are much more powerful and destructive than when we were kids. We all agree that since that day when that firecracker lit my cousin’s hand on fire, we have never looked at a firecracker the same way again.
Serious Harm Caused by Fireworks
It is no secret that fireworks can cause serious burns and eye injuries. The body parts most impacted are the eyes, head, face, ears, hands, fingers, arms, trunk and legs. According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, on average, 180 people go to the emergency room every day with fireworks related injuries in the month around the July 4th holiday. Health experts are afraid more will get hurt this year with the sharp uptick in illegal fireworks use. We can prevent fireworks related injuries and death and promote fireworks safety. One big safety tip – never allow children to play with or ignite fireworks.
Many people do not realize that young children suffer injuries from sparklers. Take a guess at how hot a sparkler is. I asked some friends and family whose common responses were 150 degrees F or 200 degrees F. Sparklers burn at a temperature of about 2000 degrees F- hot enough to melt some metals. According to KidsHealth, if not handled properly, fireworks can cause burns and eye injuries in both kids and adults. They state the best way to protect your family is not to use any fireworks at home-period. They also recommend attending public fireworks displays and leaving lighting fireworks to professionals. The problem is we can’t do this in 2020. KidsHealth.org also advises to immediately seek medical attention if injury occurs due to fireworks.
According to Handcare, the upper extremity expert, fireworks can explode unexpectedly and can even go off in the wrong direction sometimes. They caution that it is hard to gauge exactly how large an explosion may be, especially with illegal fireworks. If a firework explodes in your hand, you could lose your hand completely! Fireworks are hot and greater than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Burns can result in extensive scars, loss of finger, amputation of the hand and require surgery and hospitalization. Each year, US emergency rooms handle more than 10,000 fireworks injuries from simple burns to lost fingers or lost hands. 42 % involve arms, fingers and hands. See handcare.org.
Similarly, the National Safety Council warns to leave fireworks to the experts and do not use any fireworks at home. In 2017, over 12,000 were injured bad enough to require medical treatment after a fireworks incident. 50% were children and young adults under 20 years old. Over two thirds took place between June 16th and July 16th. The majority is due to amateurs attempting to use professional grade fireworks or homemade or illegal fireworks.
The National Safety Council provides that 1200 injuries are due to less powerful devices such as small firecrackers or sparklers. Also, fireworks start an average of 18,500 fires each year. They warn that sparklers are more dangerous than we think. Sparklers ignite clothes and children have experienced severe burns from sparklers dropping on their feet. In fact, sparklers can account for more than 25% of emergency room visits for fireworks according to the National Fire Protection Association. They recommend safer alternatives such as glow sticks, confetti poppers and colored streamers.
Mass.gov reminds us that possession and use of all fireworks in Massachusetts is illegal and this includes sparklers, party poppers, snappers, small firecrackers, spinners and cherry bombs. Also, it is illegal to transport fireworks into MA even if purchase legally elsewhere and illegal fireworks can be confiscated on the spot. They recommend setting a good example for children. Do not purchase them by mail. If you use fireworks, children will copy you because children imitate adults. If you use illegal fireworks, children who see you will not understand the dangers of fireworks.
Some Startling Statistics Involving Fireworks
The results of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) analysis of fireworks data during the calendar year 2019 is startling:
-Fireworks were involved with estimated 10,000 injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments in 2019
-7,300 were treated between June 21st and July 21st 2019
-Nearly half of the estimated emergency room visits were individuals younger than 20 years old
-Children under 15 account for 36% of fireworks related injuries
-900 emergency department visits treated injuries from sparklers and 400 visits treated injuries from bottle rockets
-The parts of the body most often injured were hands and fingers- estimated 30%
Destruction from Fireworks in the 2020 Season
Already this season damage has been reported due to fireworks. According to the New York Post, on June 17, 2020, two were injured by illegal firework as New York also sees skyrocket use of illegal fireworks. In one incident, an 18 year old man was struck in the chest lighting fireworks and was reported in the hospital in critical condition. In the second incident, a 33 year old shot off fireworks inside a Brooklyn apartment and one missile backfired and hit his chest. He was taken to the hospital and was reported in critical condition.
Fireworks were blamed for a fire that left 6 New York families homeless. Fireworks may have started the fire that destroyed a 3 story apartment building in New York and injured 12 firefighters. CBS News New York reported that in New York City the city fireworks’ problem took a dangerous and cruel twist. A suspect threw a firework at a sleeping homeless man at 4 am near 113th Street. The victim suffered burns. The New York Police Department is offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the suspect’s arrest.
Another recent fireworks’ incident involves a 3 year old boy. According to NBC 4 New York News, the boy was awakened by fireworks and fireworks crashed through his 6th floor apartment window in the Bronx. The boy suffered burns to his arms and stitches to his head.
Both Chelsea Police and Lawrence Police recently added patrols to address increase fireworks complaints. Police believe Massachusetts residents are buying fireworks in New Hampshire and illegally transporting them here to Massachusetts according to the Boston Herald. They are working with both Massachusetts and New Hampshire State Police.
Preventing Harm from Fireworks this Holiday
The best thing we can do is to leave the fireworks to the professionals and stay far away from illegal fireworks. No doubt we will miss the thrill of watching the sky light up at our favorite fireworks’ viewing spot this year. We will yearn for this tradition to return next 4th of July when hopefully this pandemic will no longer be a threat here. We have the option of tuning in to the Boston Pops from the safety of our homes on the evening of the 4th. Police also urge us to talk to our children, especially teenagers, about the inherent dangers of fireworks and the adverse effects on our neighborhoods. Boston Police remind us that illegal fireworks are a significant danger to the safety of residents and our property.
If someone is hurt due to fireworks, they may seek compensation for their injuries and harm. If you light or provide illegal fireworks, you may be liable and held responsible for any harm caused.
As a victim of an accident, make sure everything is done to protect your interests. The lawyers at Nadeau Harkavy LLC help victims and their families recover compensation for their losses in serious injury and wrongful death cases arising from accidents at the hands of someone else’s wrongdoing. We help you navigate the rules and insurance claims process and fight to get you the compensation you deserve. If you have any questions about your legal rights relating to an accident, feel free to contact us for a free no obligation consult today at 617-674-7640.