Celebrating Safety: Backyard Fireworks During Holidays

Photo of a child holding sparklers outside at night

Written By: Charles Gluckstein

There hasn’t been much to celebrate lately. The world has found itself in the grips of a pandemic that has kept us largely isolated in our homes and socially distanced when in public. Large-scale events with big crowds? A distant memory. But as vaccines are rolled out to the general population, and the current wave of infections looks like it may be the last, there is finally a light at the end of this long tunnel. By autumn 2021, life may return to something that feels close to normal. In the meantime, we face another spring and summer where some of our favourite events and holiday celebrations will continue to be more subdued or cancelled altogether. For example, many people who usually attend public fireworks displays on Victoria Day and Canada Day may find themselves sitting at home again this year.[i] If the thought of missing these bright lights in the night sky has you thinking of using your back yard to hold a pyrotechnic display, there are some essential things you should know to keep everyone safe, meaning yourself, your family, and any other attendees or nearby neighbours.

Check local bylaws

To prevent nightly shows by fireworks fans, many municipalities restrict when these explosives can be used. Toronto’s fireworks bylaws, for example, allow people to set off fireworks on their private property without a permit only on Victoria Day and Canada Day. A permit is required to light fireworks on any other day. You are not permitted to set off fireworks in a City park, street, parking lot or any private property that is not your own.[ii] On the other hand, the Vancouver city council voted to ban the use of fireworks entirely. When in doubt, check it out – visit your municipality’s website to review bylaws, or contact a bylaw officer to ensure you stay within the law.

Choose the right fireworks

Purchasing pyrotechnics from a reputable fireworks dealer is the best way to ensure you are only using legal explosives. Illegal fireworks (including improvised homemade fireworks) can be hazardous and cause serious injury or even death. The Canadian National Fireworks Association (CNFA) notes that illegal fireworks include cherry bombs, snaps, M-80 salutes, flash crackers, throw-down torpedoes, cigarette loads, trick matches, and sprite bombs. Firecrackers are also illegal, though special permission is granted for their use.[iii] Determining whether fireworks are being purchased from a source other than an established dealer can be more difficult; however, the CNFA explains that if safety instructions and labels on the fireworks do not appear in both official languages (English & French), it is not an authorized firework for sale in Canada. Bilingual labels do not necessarily guarantee the firework is approved, though.

Safety first

As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The Canada Safety Council[iv] advises reading all instructions, cautions and warnings on fireworks very carefully to ensure that you understand how to handle, set up, light properly, and dispose of, each explosive. Generally, all unused fireworks should be stored in a closed box away from any fireworks being lit. All other open flames or sparks (from things like cigarettes or sparklers) should be far from fireworks. Next, choose a clear, open space for your launching area. Using hard, flat and level surfaces will help ensure stability. All spectators should be a safe distance away from fireworks when being lit (see distance requirements on instructions), and children should be closely monitored. If there is any wind, it should be blowing in a direction away from spectators. Also, be sure to keep a bucket of sand, a source of water and a fire extinguisher nearby. When it’s time to start the show, only adults (18 years of age or over) should handle fireworks, and no one who is impaired by alcohol or drugs should be permitted to manage them. Although professional fireworks displays often light multiple items at one time, backyard enthusiasts should only ever light one at a time. The person lighting the fireworks should wear protective goggles and gloves, light the fireworks at arm’s length, and stand back. Never lean over fireworks when lighting them or hold them in your hand while they are lit. Ensure long hair is tied back and wear properly fitted clothing. Although matches or lighters are commonly used to light fireworks, open flames can be harder to control – especially when there is wind. A special smouldering stick called a “punk” can be a safer option. Sometimes a firework fizzles or doesn’t explode. While it might be tempting to try to relight these defective fireworks again if they don’t work the first time correctly, don’t risk an accidental explosion by relighting. Instead, please stay away from these duds for five minutes (if there is an unexpected delayed explosion), soak them in water and dispose of them with other spent fireworks that have been wetted. Put them in a metal trash can away from any building or combustible materials until the next day. While children seem to love fireworks especially, they should never handle them. Sometimes adults distribute sparklers for children to hold, thinking these are a safer alternative. Unfortunately, they burn at extremely high temperatures and cause severe burns and other injuries if mishandled. Any child under the age of 12 should be very closely supervised when playing with sparklers. The American Pyrotechnics Association advises that no more than one sparkler should be lit at one time, and should be kept at arm’s length. People holding sparklers should be at least six feet apart, protective eyewear should be used, and loose-fitting clothes and open-toed shoes should be avoided. Like fireworks, sparklers should be doused in water and disposed of once cool.[v]

What if someone gets hurt?

Even if all safety precautions are followed, accidents and injuries can and do happen. Although burns are the most common injuries, cuts, bumps, bruises, scarring, amputations and eye injuries, including blindness, can occur. Fires caused by exploded fireworks can also damage property and cause secondary injuries. Although you might think the person lighting the fireworks would be most likely to sustain injuries, almost half of the injuries occur to bystanders. Firecrackers, sparklers and bottle rockets are the most common types of fireworks to cause injuries. If fireworks have injured you or someone near you, call for medical help immediately. Avoid taking any medication or putting creams or ointments on burns until you are seen by a medical professional. If an injury occurs to the eyes, do not rub, rinse or apply pressure to the eyes or attempt to remove any objects stuck in them.[vi] Fireworks accidents can cause debilitating injury, permanent disability or even death. But victims of these accidents may be able to access compensation and damages for their losses. A homeowner or host of a private fireworks event, or the owner of the fireworks, may be liable for these injuries, and a claim could be made against the homeowner’s policy or other liability insurance policy that may be available. Providing tips to keep you and your loved ones safe during holiday celebrations, and helping you access compensation if you have suffered a tragic injury, is part of Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers’ commitment to full-circle client care. To learn more about how we can help you, contact info@gluckstein.com.

[I]Vancouver fireworks ban comes into effect at midnight after Halloween | CTV News

[ii]Fireworks – City of Toronto

[iii] Legal & Illegal Fireworks – Canadian National Fireworks Association

[iv]Fireworks Safety Tips – Canada Safety Council

[v]Be Sparkler Safe (americanpyro.com)

[vi]10 Fireworks Safety Tips to Prevent Injury and Burns - How to Light Fireworks Safely at Home (goodhousekeeping.com)


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