How to throw a fun (and safe) fireworks party

Before you set off those roman candles, read this first….

Photo: iStock

If your idea of a rocking Canada Day includes controlled mini-explosions, then we have the tips you need to make your fireworks party go off with a bang, and ensure that no-one goes home with singed eyebrows (or more serious injuries).

The right display for your party

If you have a fair bit of cash to splash on a bombastic backyard display, you might be tempted to buy the biggest box of fireworks you can. You need to resist that urge—for several reasons. “Remember that the most impressive displays start small and build up to the most expensive and impressive fireworks,” says Tom Jacobs, president of Rocket.ca, a company that sells fireworks both online and through its stores throughout Ontario. “Go into a specialist store with your budget and have them advise you on what’s going to look best, then provide you with a numbered sheet to help you with scheduling,” he says. How do you pick the right fireworks for your display? “You want to have a mix of different effects and a great finale.”

Jacobs says that each firework has an average duration of 30 seconds, so for a five-minute display you’d need around 10 fireworks, depending of course on how far apart you want to space them. “$100 is a reasonable minimum to spend, and if you just want a small-scale display to impress little kids then you can probably get away with spending $30,” Jacobs says, “But the sky is the limit, a kick-ass display you could spend anywhere from $400—$1,200. Some single fireworks can cost as much as $70.”

Space constraints

Next, consider your space. The big impressive fireworks that spray into chrysanthemums high in the sky are what are known as cakes, with multiple ignitions that can last up to a minute. These are the ones that make us go “oooh” and “ahhhh,” but they aren’t suitable if you have a postage stamp yard or close neighbours.

mother's hand applies sunblock to baby girl on beach Should you worry that sunscreen ingredients could be entering your kid’s bloodstream?“With aerial fireworks you have less control over where they’re going to land,” says Jacobs, “The fireworks box is going to say how far away you need to be from your house or anyone else’s, and you need to pay close attention to that.” Some municipalities have rules about how far fireworks need to be away from the house (Jacobs says 8 metres is common, but he’d prefer a distance of 15 metres for vertical cakes and 25 metres for fanning cakes.)

That said, there’s still plenty you can do in less space. “Fountains, Roman Candles and Shooting Stars offer low-level effects that you can have plenty of fun with, and are perfectly safe—as long as you’re smart,” says Jacobs. “They might sound a bit boring to you, but kids love them.”

Safety first

I’ve seen fireworks shoot sideways at crowds, drunken dads trying to light fireworks with sparklers, and extremely young kids being allowed to handle fireworks. Thankfully, I’ve never seen anyone get a serious injury because of fireworks, but it does happen.

Two absolute no-nos: booze and having kids involved in the set-up. “It says right on the box that fireworks are not to be used by children, and that’s there for a reason, it is really easy to get hurt setting fireworks up incorrectly, or to hurt others if you do,” says Blois Currie, Fire Chief in Truro, NS. “You need a sensible sober adult in charge, so if you see someone whose been drinking setting up the fireworks, find someone who’s not drinking to step in.”

The majority of incidences with fireworks miss-firing are due to them not being secured properly. “It will tell you on the box whether you need to partly bury it in sand or stabilize it with rocks or bricks,” Jacobs says, “And you need to follow those instructions.” If you don’t stabilize the firework properly, it could seriously hurt someone.

If you are letting kids help—as many parents do—have it be more like a teaching moment where they are observing you. “And be sure to pay close attention with little kids and sparklers,” Jacobs says. “They don’t realize that once it stops burning that iron rod is still very hot.”

One last thing

Think you can handle all this? There are two last things to consider. Currie says you need to check a) whether your municipality bans personal fireworks, and b) if there’s a fire ban going on. “You’re basically shooting gunpowder into tinder, and that can cause a forest fire,” says Currie. “Besides potentially endangering a lot of people’s lives, you could be held responsible and charged for the amount of damage caused.”

Once you have all these bases covered, you should be good to go. Get ready to make your Canada Day party the brightest and sparkliest on your block.

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