Don't be a doofus with fireworks this Fourth of July

Blowin' up

Don't be a doofus with fireworks this Fourth of July
Illustration by Sean Bieri

On Jan. 1, 2012, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation passed by that assembly of hillbilly solons known as the Michigan legislature. The legislation, later modified somewhat in June of last year, permits the sale of “consumer grade” fireworks and neutralized bans on shooting these fireworks the day before, the day of, and the day after a major holiday. Unlike “low-impact” fireworks, which used to be the only pyrotechnics approved for individual use, “consumer grade” fireworks shoot up into the air and explode in dazzling displays — with thundering noise.

It must be nice to be an outstate Michigan legislator: A steady stream of donations funds your campaigns, the actual legislation is written for you by corporate lawyers, and all you have to do is kiss babies and badmouth cities with more than 500,000 residents. That also means you can pass all kinds of crazy laws that make life in a big city increasingly hellish. The fireworks measure is one example.

For emphasis, let’s examine that law again: It says that, aside from some bans on nighttime fireworks, no ordinance shall regulate the “ignition, discharge, or use of consumer fireworks on the day preceding, the day of, or the day after a national holiday.”

To my eyes, the enforcement of that limitation appears rather lax. It seems that the first explosions in my Hamtramck neighborhood are heard around June 1, and the Western Front doesn’t fully quiet until around July 30. The week of the Fourth of July, it sounds like a refinery blowing up for several continuous days. Dog owners loathe this time of year like the Magic Bag loathes the Dream Cruise, as it sends their pets whining under the bed, their sensitive ears pained by the deafening explosions.

There are side benefits to all this chaos, I guess. A Hamtramck couple I know keeps a brace of backyard ducks. They tell me the thunder of explosions tricked the earthworms into surfacing to avoid what seemed a harbinger of flooding rains. As a result, their ducks feasted all week long. So we’ve got that going for us.

But the truth remains that, for weeks, some of the more sedate city residents have to deal with a string of massive explosions and real fire hazards as their hog-wild neighbors seem intent on making as much noise as possible, as long as possible.

Perhaps the worst thing about suddenly relaxing fireworks legislation is that it simply tosses these deadly exploding rockets into the hands of people who haven’t been properly educated about them. A little education would go a long way.

To be fair, I have seen individual people launch some bad, boss fireworks displays. It seems any minor holiday up North is an occasion for people to touch off an impressive show that can light up the sky for minutes at a time. But many outstaters have the open land to make exploding rockets relatively safe. Plus, they’ve been doing this for some time, and have the good sense to take safety precautions, such as attaching the fireworks to a sheet of plywood so the rocket-launchers can’t flip onto their sides.

Downstate, however, newbies too often figure any consumer product must be safe, and set the 96-rocket Battle of Fallujah down on springy grass, only to find that it tips, pumping rockets across the back yard for long, terrifying seconds, explosions blasting under the feet of their guests, sending people running for cover. In the last few years, I’ve seen this occur three separate times, remarkably, with no injuries. 

Of course, I’ve seen it in an environment about as different from 20-acre spreads up North as you can imagine. My neighborhood is smack in the middle of the densest city in Michigan. When the rockets really get flying, you can hear the spent missiles landing on your roof.

As a city resident, it’s irritating that state legislators, many of whom are well-groomed businessmen living on remote parcels of land where these fireworks make sense, have helped turn the city into a battle zone during times when the heat is often so unbearable we need our windows open. Driving around the city during the holiday week gets surreal, explosions bursting all around, streets blocked off with families setting off skyrocket incendiaries — to say nothing of the ripped and charred cardboard carnage left all over. For weeks, I find myself picking up fireworks litter. I probably have a battery of spent shells in my gutters. I’m afraid to look.

The situation calls for plenty of education, teaching people how to properly set off fireworks. (Although, since our fusillade-happy legislature can’t even agree on such vital issues as money for road repairs, the prospects for proper funding from Lansing seem dim.) It’s likely that if any lessons are passed on, they’re going to have to begin with us. So listen up, fireworks fans: Don’t be a doofus, be dainty.

Yes, fireworks are designed to be safe. Industry sources declare that they’re safer than ever before. But to think that “Light and get away” is all you need to know is foolish. Don’t just get away; keep everybody away. And “away” means 140 feet for all aerial products, which means tight shots from alleys and backyards demand every precaution possible. Don’t take our word for it; take a moment to check safety guidelines from the National Council on Fireworks Safety or the American Pyrotechnics Association. 

They’ll also tell you to keep a bucket of water or a hose handy, or, for more remote locations, a fire extinguisher. They also wisely suggest you use a long-neck butane lighter or a fireplace match to ensure that you’re as far away as possible when you light that sucker.

Get your fireworks firmly fixed before setting them off. Maybe even talk to your neighbors and pick a vacant area, away from the houses, to really fire for effect, where spectators can enjoy the spectacle with you — should they choose to. 

Even though it’s the holidays, if you’re going to set off massive firecrackers that pack a dynamite wallop, maybe you shouldn’t be drunk. If you absolutely must punish the ears of every dog in the vicinity, at least use the fireworks as advised. Don’t use the bombs to blow up containers, potentially sending shrapnel flying. 

Please, don’t give children a handful of firecrackers or a live Roman candle. They are often dazzled by sparklers, fountains, and whizzing little tops. (Nobody really likes those “snakes” that stain your pavement.) 

And when you’re certain the firework is fully spent, please take a moment to pick up the litter it leaves. Just because you love explosions doesn’t mean you can’t be tidy about it.

Because, in all honesty, I appreciate freedom as much as anybody. You want the freedom to blow shit the fuck up? That’s fine and dandy. But please blow shit up responsibly. Preferably at least 140 feet away from me — or anybody. 

Michael Jackman

Born in 1969 at Mount Carmel hospital in Detroit, Jackman grew up just 100 yards from the Detroit city line in east Dearborn. Jackman has attended New York University, the School of Visual Arts, Northwestern University and Wayne State University, though he never got a degree. He has worked as a bar back, busboy,...
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