COMMENTARY: Four great reasons to say no to personal fireworks

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Alright. I’ll begin by just putting it out there: Fireworks are freaking fun. They’re exciting and provide some cheap thrills. And, if your nature is that of a thrill-seeker, you probably don’t care that much that they’re illegal in your city. Maybe the fact that they’re not legal even makes them that much more alluring to you.

So, you go ahead and drive to a neighboring city where they’re not illegal, and you sneak them back to Long Beach or Signal Hill. You pop off a few for 20 or so minutes, even enjoy a bit of nostalgia for your childhood years of playing with firecrackers, and then call it a night. You’re slick enough that you avert police and avoid a potential $1,000 fine or six-month jail sentence. No real harm done, right?

Well, there’s way more to think about, and those considerations may fall outside your usual sphere of awareness. Until just a few years ago, I wasn’t aware of all this information.

In 2013, the use of fireworks resulted in an estimated 15,600 reported fires in the U.S., including 1,400 structure fires, 200 vehicle fires and 14,000 outside and other fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. That organization also reports that 28 percent of blazes that resulted from fireworks from 2009 to 2013 were reported on the Fourth of July and that 47 percent of the reported fires on Independence Day were caused by fireworks.

The National Safety Council reports that, in 2017, eight people died and more than 12,000 were injured seriously enough to need medical treatment after fireworks-related incidents.

If the prospects of a hefty fine, significant jail sentence and potential injury or death still aren’t enough to convince you to completely avoid using fireworks, even the “safe and sane” type, then perhaps understanding the negative impact they have on some particularly vulnerable members of our community will do the trick.

The elderly
The randomness of personal fireworks use can lead to anxiety in the elderly, who may not be able to ascertain if the noise is from fireworks or another, more threatening, source.

Additionally, older people are more susceptible to the toxins in the air created by fireworks.

A study published in the scientific journal Atmospheric Environment looked at 315 locations throughout the U.S. and indicates that Fourth of July explosions temporarily boosted the levels of airborne microscopic particles that can pose a health risk.

According to the World Health Organization, inhaling airborne particles can cause respiratory or cardiovascular problems, especially in the elderly and people with asthma or pre-existing heart or lung disease.

Veterans
Those who have served our country certainly deserve our support– including our consideration during the Fourth of July.

An article published on the Marine Corps Community Services website discusses how veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be affected by the noises from fireworks. The story tells about one veteran who, during the holiday, places a sign in his yard that states: “Combat Veteran Lives Here. Please Be Courteous with Fireworks.”

The article also suggests, however, that some veterans with PTSD may be reluctant to request such consideration, for fear of ruining the fun of others.

In a June 2018 interview with the Signal Tribune, Vietnam-War veteran Frank Macias described what goes through his mind upon hearing the noises.

“‘Is it incoming? Is it not?’ Things like that,” Macias said. “It just takes me right back there (to the war), and you realize that you’re not there, you’re here. […] It’s an instantaneous, vivid thing.”

His daughter, Gina Macias-Overholt, serves as a Veterans Affairs coordinator with the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services. In an interview with the Signal Tribune, she also described her father’s reaction to the sounds and sights.

“The flashing lights and booms [do] trigger [PTSD] in veterans and combat veterans, and even people who suffer from PTSD generally,” she said. “Just thinking back, I remember my dad just going white knuckles, cold and sweaty, and hiding under our slide when we had a playground in the back yard. When it was the Fourth of July, I just had no idea what the heck was going on. He would just kind of freeze up and hide.”

Children
The World Health Organization has indicated that children’s exposure to loud fireworks can lead to hearing loss.

According to a 2017 Consumer Product Safety Commission study, one in four children who suffered fireworks-related injuries were bystanders in backyard fireworks displays.

Of the fireworks injuries in 2017, 50 percent were to children and young adults under age 20. Children younger than 15 years of age accounted for 36 percent of the estimated injuries that year.

Pets
According to Long Beach Animal Care Services, “the Fourth of July can be a frightening time for animals, with the loud sounds of firecrackers and fireworks often sending pets scurrying out of the house or yard in search of security or shelter.”

I have several friends who have pets, and, if they do attend an Independence Day function, they must leave before dusk so they can return home to comfort their animals. Sometimes that means giving them drugs to sedate them during the night of explosions.

I’ve heard stories of dogs getting so stressed from the noises, they run out of the house or yard and into the street, putting themselves in danger of being struck by a car.

There are numerous places to view public fireworks displays, including from the shoreline in Long Beach or from the top of Signal Hill. Keep in mind, however, that Hilltop Park in Signal Hill will be closed to vehicular traffic of non-residents during the holiday.

Before you make that seemingly innocent purchase of fireworks, please stop and think about our local seniors, veterans, kids and animals.