The Fourth of July is a federal holiday commemorating the Continental Congress’ July 4, 1776 declaration that the thirteen American colonies were independent states and free from the monarchy of Britain. Most Americans celebrate Independence Day with cookouts, family get-togethers, parades, trips to the beach or lake, and of course…fireworks displays.
The safest way to enjoy fireworks is to let the licensed professional put on the show. Unfortunately, most public displays are being canceled this year due to COVID-19 and social distancing requirements. As a result, many people, including Virginians, are buying their own fireworks. This leads Virginians to ask: Are fireworks legal in the Commonwealth, and how can I protect myself and my family from fireworks injury?
Are fireworks legal in Virginia?
While specific laws and regulations vary depending on the local jurisdiction, generally only small fireworks are legal in Virginia. Specifically permitted are: sparklers, fountains, pharaoh’s serpents, pinwheels and whirligigs. Specifically prohibited (unless you are a licensed contractor) are: firecrackers, sky/bottle rockets, torpedoes, and other fireworks that explode, travel laterally, rise into the air, or fire projectiles. However, there are different rules on what you can buy and what you can use depending on where you live or will be celebrating the 4th of July. Even those fireworks that are legal statewide…might not be permitted in certain cities or counties. For example, Henrico and Chesterfield Counties prohibit the use of any fireworks. In Virginia Beach, the city bans sparklers, fireworks displays without permits, and fireworks entirely on the beach. So before buying fireworks, make sure to check with the local county/city administration to be advised if fireworks have been banned or restricted.
Generally possessing, selling or using illegal fireworks in Virginia is a class 1 misdemeanor and can result in a fine up to $2,500.00 or up to one year in jail.
Fireworks Safety Tips:
Fireworks are a traditional part of our Independence Day celebration and they produce a definite thrill. However, they can also produce devastating injuries when they are misused. The U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s 2019 Fireworks Annual Report analyzed data on fireworks-related deaths and injuries during calendar year 2019. Highlights of that report include the following:
Deaths and Injuries
- CPSC staff received reports of 12 non-occupational, fireworks-related deaths during 2019. Seven of the deaths were associated with misuse of fireworks, 2 deaths were associated with fireworks device malfunction (late ignition), and 3 incidents were associated with unknown circumstances. Reporting of fireworks-related deaths for 2019 is not complete, and the number of deaths in 2019 should be considered a minimum.
- Fireworks were involved with an estimated 10,000 injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments during calendar year 2019 (95 percent confidence interval 7,100 – 12,900). The estimated rate of fireworks-related, emergency-department treated injuries in the United States is 3.1 per 100,000 individuals.
- An estimated 7,300 fireworks-related injuries (or 73 percent of the total estimated fireworks-related injuries in 2019) were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments during the 1-month special study period between June 21, 2019 and July 21, 2019 (95 percent confidence interval 4,700-9,900).
Results from the 2019 Special Study
- Of the 7,300 estimated fireworks-related injuries sustained, 66 percent were to males and 34 percent were to females.
- Children younger than 15 years of age accounted for 36 percent of the estimated fireworks-related injuries. Similar to last year, nearly half of the estimated emergency department-treated, fireworks-related injuries were to individuals younger than 20 years of age.
- Children 0 to 4 years of age had the highest estimated rate of emergency department-treated, fireworks-related injuries (5.3 injuries per 100,000 people). Older teens, 15 to 19 years of age, had the second highest estimated rate (4.4. injuries per 100,000 people).
- There were an estimated 900 emergency department-treated injuries associated with sparklers and 400 with bottle rockets.
- There were an estimated 800 emergency department-treated injuries associated with firecrackers. Of these, an estimated 24 percent were associated with small firecrackers, 16 percent with large firecrackers, 3 percent with illegal firecrackers, and the remaining 57 percent were associated with firecrackers of an unspecified size.
- The parts of the body most often injured were hands and fingers (an estimated 30 percent); legs (an estimated 23 percent); eyes (an estimated 15 percent); head, face and ears (an estimated 15 percent); and arms (an estimated 10 percent).
- Fifty-eight percent of the emergency department-treated injuries were burns. Burns were the most common injury to hand, fingers, arms and legs.
- Approximately 87 percent of the victims were treated at a hospital emergency department and then released. An estimated 12 percent of patients were treated and transferred to another hospital, or admitted to the hospital.
The Virginia Department of Health recommends following these safety tips:
- Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks.
- 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.
- Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them.
- Make sure you, your kids, and others watch firework displays from a safe distance.
- Call 911 immediately if someone is injured from fireworks.
Other good ideas include: do not use fireworks under the influence of alcohol, wear safety goggles, and leave your pet at home as the loud noises can frighten them and cause them to run away.
The attorneys at Allen & Allen have been fighting to secure justice for those injured due to the negligence of others for 110 years as a result of motor-vehicle and tractor-trailer collisions, medical malpractice, defective products, dog attacks, slip and falls and many other causes. The negligent discharge of fireworks can also produce devastating injuries in a flash. This July 4th, and always, please follow the rules of your particular locality…and play it safe!