Homemade fireworks injuries surfacing during Fourth of July week
Though bottle rockets and Roman candles are now legal in Michigan, the thrill of the big bang still has left some residents to their own devices.
Reports of people injured after incidents with homemade fireworks came in Tuesday at University of Michigan Health System, and staff expects there to be dozens throughout the rest of the week and the weekend.
A person was admitted to the adult emergency room in U-M’s University Hospital this week with major injuries from a homemade firework, said David Stoll, emergency department charge nurse.
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“A lot of people make homemade explosives,” Stoll said. “They fill a container with gunpowder and put metal pieces or BBs in it. Then they put it in something and try to blow it up.”
Another admission to the emergency room this week was a person who was seriously burned after being hit by a homemade sparkler.
“Someone had taken steel wool and put muzzle loader propellant or something flammable on it and lit it on fire to make a huge sparkler,” Stoll said.
A string had been previously tied to the steel wool, and someone was whipping the flammable bundle around in a giant circle above their head.
The fire burned through the string, and the flaming piece of steel wool flew into someone standing nearby, Stoll said.
Stoll, who has worked in the emergency room for the past decade, said there’s always a rash of homemade firework-related injuries in the week surrounding Independence Day.
He anticipated several dozen patients would be admitted throughout the week and over the weekend.
A spokesman from St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor said they had not seen emergency room admissions Tuesday from homemade firework-related injuries.
Private individuals are allowed to build fireworks for their own use, though they are under stringent guidelines of the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)- a federal agency with local field offices in Michigan.
To discharge a firework on private property, the individual must obtain a license from the local governing body - a city or township.
Typical homemade fireworks consist of metallic salts for color, charcoal, sulfur and potassium nitrate. The shell is cardboard, and covered in glued paper.
The inclusion of metal into a homemade firework - like shrapnel and BBs - make it less of a firework and more of a dangerous explosive.
“Those that hurt people are more like an improvised exploding devices,” said Bob Kesling, president of the Michigan Pyrotechnics Art Guild. “People are in it for the bang, not for the art.”
The guild consists of manufacturers, hobbyists and interested consumers that meet about five times a year. Kesling, who lives in Ludington, has been building his own fireworks for the past 12 years.
“Any time you deal with explosives as a private individual, you get the rap as a non-sane individual,” Kesling said. “It does come with your backyard bomb-maker, and that’s not what we do.”
The Chapter 750 of the Michigan Penal Code states violators of the law face a felony charge punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a $3,000 fine for possessing, delivering, sending, transporting or placing a device that is constructed to represent or is presented as an explosive, incendiary device or bomb.
Those that make their own fireworks are doing it at a risk to their own health and the health of those around them, Dawkins said.
“I know these shows look fantastic, but there’s so many things that could go wrong,” he said.
Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at (734) 623-2552, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.