Ferndale Fire Chief Warns of Fireworks Dangers
Residents can legally use fireworks July 3-5, but even small fireworks carry serious risks, fire officials say.
The nightly sound of fireworks whistling and popping is a sure sign that it's almost the Fourth of July - but fire officials in Ferndale are warning residents that fireworks are not only illegal to use except for a limited number of days but that they can also be very dangerous.
As part of a new state law that allows consumers to buy airborne fireworks without leaving Michigan, municipalities cannot regulate fireworks use on federal holidays – such as July 4 – or the day right before and after.
Legislators passed the change, which Gov. Rick Snyder signed last Dec. 13, to generate sales tax revenue and registration fees. Sellers pay $1,000 annually for a permanent site or $600 for a tent or other seasonal, outdoor location.
Earlier this year, Ferndale City Council passed an ordinance that prohibits the use of fireworks except on the days already allowed by the state law.
"You can shoot them off the day before, the day of and the day after a federal holiday," said Ferndale Fire Chief Kevin Sullivan, pointing out that any of the airborne fireworks now sold in Michigan can be used legally on those days. "Now people can shoot much bigger ones than Michigan ever allowed to be sold."
And that's a big concern for fire safety, Sullivan said. People can only use the fireworks on their own private property and lot sizes in the city are typically small, he said.
"I can fire an average firework but it ain't going to land on my property," he said. "There's the concern for us."
Sullivan said even fairly insignificant fireworks have been known to start fires. "We've had a couple house fires set off by very small fireworks," he said.
Fireworks are a low-grade explosive, he points out. "Some of these things are filled with all kinds of hazardous metals," he said. If someone sets off a firework that ends up starting a fire on someone else's property, they could also be held civilly liable.
"I would think twice about anything other than sparklers and Roman candles ... in a local city neighborhood because there's just nowhere for them to safely go," he said.
Ferndale Fire Marshal Brian Batten said in addition to the noise complaints that the department is likely to get over the next several days, he also expects to see an increase in complaints about fireworks landing on someone else's property.
"The problem is in a city like Ferndale you're not in an open area of a yard," he said. "More than likely the firework that goes up in the air is going to go down on your neighbor's property ... You could burn someone else's property down."
Also pointing out the risk of serious injuries, Batten said fireworks should really only be used by professionals.
"All the mistakes that are made with fireworks are because people become complacent with them and they don't take precautions," he said. "We don't recommend anybody use, sell or buy fireworks. They are dangerous. Leave it up to the professionals."
Residents who use fireworks on days other than those allowed by the city can face significant fines, Sullivan said. For more information, call the City of Ferndale at 248-546-2525.