This Fourth Of July, Don't Be Like These Dummies: How Not To Set Off Fireworks Every year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission urges Americans to use fireworks responsibly. It does this by blowing up a bunch of mannequins on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
NPR logo This July 4, Don't Be Like These Dummies: How Not To Set Off Fireworks

This July 4, Don't Be Like These Dummies: How Not To Set Off Fireworks

Fireworks

Every summer on the National Mall, in the heart of the nation's capital, there's a free public event — a series of fireworks for all to see.

It's America's annual explosive celebration ... of safety.

It's the Consumer Product Safety Commission's day to blow up mannequins.

This year, it was observed on June 27.

The CPSC is an independent government agency dedicated to, as the name suggests, consumer product safety. It has an extremely weird Twitter account for a regulatory body, which it uses to deliver a wide range of safety-themed messages.

The CPSC would like you to report unsafe products. The CPSC would like you to wear a helmet. The CPSC urges you to anchor your dressers and TVs. The CPSC would prefer that children not drive lawn mowers. The CPSC would be deeply gratified if you would change the batteries in your smoke alarm, because the CPSC would like you not to die.

The CPSC knows a few things about fireworks.

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Fireworks are dangerous. They are literally explosives. They are things designed to burn extremely fast and/or blow up.

And this week Americans are going to buy them, they're going to drink a lot of beer and then they're going to set those explosives on fire.

The CPSC can't stop us from doing any of that. But it has some requests:

Can we please stick to legal, consumer-grade fireworks? And stop trying to make them ourselves?

Could we stop pointing fireworks at other people?

Could we step away from the fireworks after we light them on fire? And, if they malfunction, could we avoid walking back toward them and sticking our faces directly over them?

Can we stop giving sparklers, which burn at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, to small children?

Could we please, please, please not light fireworks off the tops of our heads?

Each year, the CPSC marches down to the National Mall with a stack of doomed dummies, a mess of explosive devices and a deep desire to persuade Americans to be a little bit safer.

For the record, this is not all that the CPSC does for the Fourth of July.

"We work with the fireworks industry, monitor incoming fireworks shipments at the ports and enforce federal fireworks safety regulations," acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle said in a statement last month.

But the exploding dummies are definitely the most eye-catching.

If your eye has been caught, let us emphasize: Last year, there were more than 12,000 fireworks-related injuries treated at emergency departments in the U.S., according to the CPSC. Most of those injuries are burns.

There were also eight deaths, including a father who died after lighting professional-grade fireworks, a child who was killed by an explosion caused by several sparklers inside a tube, and a young man who was killed after igniting fireworks while holding them in his hand.

Watching mannequins blow up might be hilarious, but avoidable death and injury aren't funny. Here are the CPSC's full safety tips for how to use fireworks responsibly:

Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks.

Avoid buying fireworks that are packaged in brown paper because this is often a sign that the fireworks were made for professional displays and that they could pose a danger to consumers.

Always have an adult supervise fireworks activities. Parents don't realize that young children suffer injuries from sparklers. Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees — hot enough to melt some metals.

Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.

Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully.

Never point or throw fireworks at another person.

Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.

Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly.

Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.

After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding it to prevent a trash fire.

Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them.