safety first — Experts get an early start testing fireworks
Cindy L. Davis/Staff Photographer
Spotsylvania County Fire Marshall Philip Sullivan unloads
fireworks while others burn in the background. Fireworks with names like
Space Party and The Hatfields & McCoys underwent a safety test Wednesday
at the Public Safety Academy in Nokesville.
NOKESVILLE – July 4th arrived early on Wednesday for firefighters from
across Northern Virginia. Space Party, Wow-Wows and Phantoms were just three
kinds of more than a thousand fireworks tested by Northern Virginia Fire
Marshals during their annual safety inspection of fireworks at Prince William
County Public Safety Academy in preparation for July’s celebrations.
Firefighters from nine Northern Virginia counties and cities spent all
day Wednesday testing fireworks for fuse length, stability, projectile and
amount of smoke emission in an attempt to make July 4th as safe as possible
for the public.
“We all come together so we can come up with a list of safe fireworks
for all of Northern Virginia and then we are all on the same page,”
Captain Ernie Little of the Prince William Fire and Rescue Department said.
“By the end of the day we’ll have a list of approved and unapproved
fireworks which we can then issue to vendors,” Little said. “We
usually let sparklers through,” Little said. “But those things
burn at over 1000 degrees and can be dangerous for children if they are
not supervised by adults, he said.
Manufacturers are required to send Northern Virginia Fire Marshals a
sample of five fire works to be tested before Jan 31. Three of the five
fireworks are tested by firefighters and must meet standards set by the
National Fire Protection Association, Mas.
“We try to give manufacturers the best chance we can,” Little
said. “If the fireworks fails, the manufacturer can appeal and we will
run the test again. Sometimes it’s just that we are given a bad batch,”
Little estimated that approximately 10 percent of fireworks are failed
each year for a variety of reasons.
“Projectile types of fireworks like bottle rockets always fail the
test,” Little said.
Firefighters measured the projectile of the fireworks with 12 inch measuring
columns planted in the ground.
“Sparks should not rise above the columns otherwise they are out,”
“A fuse should be one and a half inches or burn for a minimum of
four seconds. Some of these fireworks have fuses a quarter of an inch long,
which doesn’t give enough time for a person to get to a safe distance,”
Firefighters failed some fireworks before they were even lit.
“If the base is unstable or we look at it and it has wheels, it’s
out right away,” said Lt. Barry Harlowe of Fairfax Fire and Rescue
said. “Fireworks are not allowed to move.
Anything which resembles illegal fireworks are failed immediately.
“Anything that resembles a fire cracker, or M80’s and Cherry Bombs
is failed,” Little said. “We have accidents every year because
of fire crackers.”
Little said that Cherry Bombs are similar to small sticks of dynamite
and most popular with high school children.
“A favorite prank for high school kids is to stick a Cherry Bomb
in a toilet and blow it up,” Little said.
Firefighters were also dubious about fireworks that omit too much smoke.
“We don’t like smoke because of the mischief factor,” Harlowe
said. “Kids light smoke bombs in buildings and it causes a panic because
people think there is a fire.”
For the most part, firefighters test the same fireworks every year, but
they still have to pay close attention, as manufacturers often change the
chemical content in fireworks and this can result in a a very different
product, Little said.
Firefighters made it clear that an approved firework completely safe
to use without due caution.
“We usually let sparklers through,” Little said. “But
those things burn at over 1000 degrees and can be dangerous for children
if they are not supervised by adults,” Little said.
“We test the fireworks, but it’s up to those who purchase them to
use them safely,” said Deputy Fire Marshal Bob Rodriguez of City of
Alexandria Fire and Rescue.
Firefighters find that fireworks brought in from out of state which do
not meet NFPA standards are a problem.
“We ask vendors from out of state that they tell consumers that
the fireworks they are selling may be illegal to set off in Virginia,”
Fireworks are illegal in Alexandria but Rodriguez has glad to help out
with the fireworks testing.
“Fire works are illegal in our city because it has been proved through
investigation that they cause serious injury if they are not properly supervised.
We want to minimize injury and disfigurement and we felt this is the way
to do it,” Rodriguez said. “However I’m here because I want to
minimize harmful fireworks.”
·Contact Nancy Carroll at [email protected]