Commercial grade fireworks are traditionally constructed of brown paper material and are very plain, he said, noting they will also have a label that reads UN0335 and will likely say 1.3G Explosive. They may also have a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) EX number affixed. Firefighters inspecting shoot sites and the products that will be shot need to know if the fireworks are permissible in their coverage area.
Wyman said that even the vehicle used to transport the fireworks has to be placarded with the appropriate DOT markings indicating it contains hazardous materials.
The vehicles must be in good repair too, Wyman said.
"Do you really want the truck carrying fireworks sputtering and popping?" Wyman asked. "Worse, do you want it to break down in the middle of your town? No. You want it to smoothly and safely get from its point of origin to its destination." Wyman said a vehicle break down will unnecessarily expose people to risk.
Risk is something each community will need to assess when fireworks are going to be displayed, Wyman said. He recommends each town adopt SOGs on how fireworks will be inspected, what resources will be need for standby crews and, most importantly, what the response will be in the event of a display failure or emergency.
"If you're not going to have standby fire personnel and equipment on site, once the crowds are in place and the fireworks are going, how easy is it going to be for you to get apparatus and other types of emergency equipment to the scene?" Wyman asked. "It's probably not going to be that easy."
That's why both Wyman and Allison recommend emergency personnel stand by in the audience and not near the display itself.
Selecting Your Distance
A display failure could potentially send fireworks products into audiences, causing burns and traumatic injuries.
Shells that go off parallel to the ground because of an improper installation or a display failure, will travel just as far as they would in the air, and perhaps further if they skip off an object in their path, Allison said.
So, an eight-inch shell will travel along the ground 800 feet and, the burst "will reach out and touch you well beyond that," Allison said.
Shells travel at 200 feet per second, or approximately 136 miles per hour, he said.
"Who here think they can run that fast?" Allison asked. "This is the whole point of the class guys. Think about the size of the shell, how fast it is going and can you out run it. That's why you shouldn't be anywhere near the display site."
Allison is a firm believer in leaving the shooting of displays to professionals and not firefighters. And when the SOGs are written, they need to state clearly that fire apparatus and personnel need to be far, far away from the shooting site.
"There's no place to be safe when these things go off," Allison said, holding up an eight-inch shell that resembled a paper cannonball in size and shape. "Believe me, if you get caught in the head with one of these things, you're going to get coloring books for the rest of your life, if you make it."
Having fire apparatus close to the launch site just doesn't make sense either, Allison said. Errant shells, and they do happen, can mess up a $500,000 pumper pretty quickly.
"How do you handle a truck fire on the highway that's placarded with (explosives)?" Allison asked. "You stay away… So why do you park a fire truck right next to the display? It makes no sense."
Responding to a Problem
An errant fireworks should be expected, at least one or two at every big show, Allison said.
"If they can't get a Toyota to come over here without the throttle sticking, what the hell makes you think fireworks are going to work perfectly every time and the way it's supposed to?" Allison asked.
When something happens during a show, there's nothing the fire department can do about it. The show will run its course and then the fire department can come in and take care of the spot fires, the aftermath and the casualties, but should not risk firefighter safety.
"We have brush fires and all kinds of stuff that happens, we need to plan for them, but we don't need to be in the area when they happen," he said.
Signals between the lead technician and the fire protection crews must be worked out in advance so the firefighters can tell the technicians to stop the show, if necessary, and for the technician to let the firefighters know when it's safe to enter. He doesn't, however, see the need to rush in to put out a brush fire.