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1 – You are curious about fireworks and their safe operation
2 – You stumbled on this subject by mistake (and will probably leave the site)
The above two statements are in reality not that much different to Firework Safety. Some people take safety very seriously, as we do, and some people stumble across safety and tend to pass it by without considering the outcome. As a display team we have to consider many aspects of safety, not only that of ourselves but more importantly the viewing public. More of this later.
If you read the history of our fireworks displays you will, I hope, come to the conclusion that our displays have become bigger and hopefully better as time has passed. Along with this trend, safety runs parallel, and as the displays get bigger and more complicated then the risk factor also increases, thus it is extremely important to be safe at all times.
Fireworks have been around for thousands of years and the risks attached to them have always been there. Over the years there have been many accidents, ranging from minor burns to some really nasty accidents involving loss of sight, limbs etc. To lessen the accident rate it has become obvious that many Councils advocate public displays (but have yet to ban private use of fireworks – although no doubt this will happen at some point in the future). There is a very sound reason for this. Those that put on the displays are trained in both safety and usage of display fireworks, those that have displays in their back garden are unlikely to have had any formal safety training at all.
It is also true to say that due to some more recent fatal accidents involving fireworks the Government introduced restrictions on certain types of display fireworks and their use. For those of you that are interested, firework safety was debated in the House of Commons on Wednesday 20th November 1996, and whilst there was a lot of hype, highly charged and emotional discussions regarding the usage of display fireworks, their conclusion was: basically any one wishing to fire display fireworks can only do so with proper training and proper insurance coverage with a limiting factor that ‘shells’ can only be fired by professional display teams (we are classed as ‘professional’) Should you wish to read this debate it is available from me or cgsystems.co.uk
So, how do we instigate a safe firework display for Steeple Claydon.
The first thing we consider is the fact that whilst the display fireworks are usually very pretty, possibly loud and quite spectacular, it cannot be ignored that the basic firework formula is that of gunpowder in its various guises. I think it can be safely stated that most of us understand what gunpowder is and its devastating affects if used in an uncontrolled way. What we aim to do in our displays is to give the spectator a fine display in as controlled environment as can be, thus ensuring our own safety as well as that of the crowd.
When we look at fireworks such as ‘shells’ and ‘mines’ we have to asses the risk in two ways.
1: What happens if the firework fails to go off, or if it fails to fire correctly?
2: Should a failure occur how we minimize the risk?
In answer to the first point, we will always assume that the firework will fail; we then look at the possible reasons (bad fusing, a badly made firework or bad sitting).
While we are getting the firework ready for a display we look very closely at the fusing to see if anything looks out of the ordinary, if it does the firework is put aside, not used and returned to the supplier. If the firework is badly made this is usually rather apparent. In this case we would not use it and again return it to our supplier. (I have to say that this is not a usual problem that we encounter, but it has occurred at least once) As far as the last point is concerned, namely sitting, this is down to our training and experience. We have certain rules and guidelines regarding sitting and positioning of display fireworks to which we adhere. The most important rule is to keep these potentially dangerous fireworks a minimum distance of 50 metres from the audience, that is why you will see a fence erected on the display ground and as an additional safety feature a second fence erected to allow the marshals an area to work in, (crowd control), and that part of the recreation ground where the fireworks are sited out of bounds to the general public.
Each of the shells that are fired, are now fired electrically. Some years ago the fireworks were fired by hand using what is known as a ‘portfire’ (a big match!!). This required the firer to be very close to the shell, this was too much of a risk so I set about designing and building a ‘Fire Control Panel’ which kept us away from any such potential risk of the shell misfiring (This has been very successful to date).
Should a failure of a firework occur, whether it is a shell or any other type of firework, we go through the same safety procedure to ensure that the firework is handled correctly. There are two types of failure we may have to deal with, the first is that the firework fails to work at all. Should this occur then the firework is left until the last possible moment before we attempt to establish the reason for failure. (This would normally be after the display has finished and the crowd has gone home)
Having established a reason for failure the firework (in the case of a shell) it would be disconnected from the firing unit, after the power supply had been turned off, or in the case of other types of fireworks, the fuse would be removed. The firework would then be removed from its tube, if a shell, or removed from its firing set up and placed in a bucket of water. It will stay there for a minimum of 48 hours. After this period it would be removed and then buried in a safe place. After a short time the natural forces of nature will render the firework totally inert and so totally safe. It will eventually degrade.
The second type of failure is one that may well fire but does not behave in the manner it was designed. A shell could fire but only lift by maybe 10 metres into the air before bursting. If this were to be a shell of 120mm diameter the burst could spread to about 15 metres, it is clear from this example that there needs to be a lot of space between the crowd and of course the firer of the shell. This is true of all fireworks but none more so than shells, as these are potentially the most dangerous. We, as firers, try to keep as far as is practical form the shells, which is usually about 25 metres away, but still in a position to watch and see if all the shells fire. If there is a failure during the display we never attempt to enter the firing zone and light shells by hand.
Firework Safety is a state of mind – if you assess the risk, understand the risk then you can minimize the risk and operate a safe display. We are continually monitoring what we do on the firing field, we video our displays and photograph the layouts for analysis after the display. In this way we are able to watch the display, look for potential problems, compare the planned layout of the display to the photographs and the video, highlight dangers and make the following years display bigger and better and most important of all safer for you and us.
This is an insight into firework safety, as you will probably guess there is a lot more to it than what has been written above, but if you have any questions regarding safety about our displays then you can email me via the website and I will answer any questions or concerns you may have.
Enjoy the displays (safely)
Mike Wells (Safety Officer)
Steeple Claydon Fireworks Display Team
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