In my spare time outside of NFPA, I volunteer as a tour guide with a nonprofit group called Boston By Foot. I talk about Boston's history and architecture to locals and tourists from around the world. July 4 is my absolute favorite holiday, because I lead people on a 3-hour tour of our Freedom Trail, which commemorates important sites that led to the American Revolution. I love to tell people how a copy of the Declaration of Independence was first read to Bostonians from the balcony of the Old State House. The townspeople were so excited about overthrowing the "tyrant" (King George III), that a number of them climbed up the walls of the building, tore down the lion and the unicorn which symbolized royal British authority, and burned those wooden carvings in a great bonfire, perhaps the first precursor to our traditional fireworks celebrations today.
Boston also holds one of the most famous Independence Day concerts in the country on the Esplanade, which concludes with Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, involving the ringing of churchbells, firing of cannon, and, of course, an amazing fireworks display. What I truly love about Boston's celebration is that thousands of people can enjoy the beauty and noisy excitement of those fireworks safely, because the show is put on by professionals.
Yes, you knew I was coming to that -- fireworks, whether illegal or legal where you live, are just plain dangerous when they're not handled by professionals. In 2011, fireworks caused more than 17,000 (seventeen THOUSAND) fires, many of which were grass fires and wildfires. They resulted in more than $32 MILLION in property damage - and the 4th of July is, of course, when about 40% of these fires occur.
Even worse, in 2013, an estimated 11,400 people visited hospital emergency rooms with burns, contusions, lacerations and fractures caused by fireworks. Statistics from just one month - June 21-July 21, 2013 - showed that 40% of those injured were just kids - younger than 15 years old. Forty-one percent of the injuries were from those innocent-looking sparklers - that are hotter than what it takes to melt glass. Four out of five sparkler injuries were to children under 5 years old.
So, on this Independence Day, I hope everyone has a safe and happy time, and finds ways to celebrate our nation's greatness without putting themselves, their children or their neighbors at unnecessary risk of injury and loss. Hand your toddler a glow stick and watch a great fireworks show in your community. Think about how much more fun it is to watch the show together than to go to the emergency room together.
As Americans, we have many freedoms, including choices about taking risks. But before you light off that Roman candle, please do take a look at the facts. As one of my heroes, John Adams, once said, "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."
Top image: Boston's Old State House, photo by Michele Steinberg. Bottom image: infographic from NFPA's Firework Safety Tips web page. Extra points for anyone who can tell me the historical context of Mr. Adams' quote.