Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Danger of Private Fireworks

I have already heard reports of fireworks being let of outside on housing estate close to a children's playground this year. And last Sunday night, the bonfire at Les Creux and the l'Auberge were set alight.

The UK has the following legislation which covers public places - such as a children's playground:

It is an offence under section 80 of the Explosives Act 1875 to throw or set off fireworks in any highway, street, thoroughfare or public place.

But I haven't been able to track anything more specific than a public order offence in Jersey. There are specific mentions in some of the laws, however. For example on roads: "No person shall, on any road throw or discharge any stone or missile or light any fire or firework", and in parks "A person must not discharge a firework". These are liable to a fine, but in the UK, the fines for firework offenses can be given "on the spot", thus obviating the heavy workload of paperwork and court time which could otherwise follow.

It's lucky it is just fireworks outside - which is bad enough - the usual problems have surfaced in the UK, or which more later.

I have nothing against professional organised displays, and indeed I was extremely upset to see the bonfire in St Brelade has been thoughtlessly set alight, but letting any Tom Dick or Harry have access to fireworks if over 18 is quite reckless, particularly given the fact that:

(1) rockets were being fired at cars last year in the St Brelade area
(2) there is currently a spate of cars being set on fire, and I would have thought that releasing more incendiary materials can't help.

In New Zealand, for example schools are regularly subject to arson attacks based on fireworks:

Schools traditionally suffer during the Guy Fawke's period and regularly find themselves the target of arson attacks. Already a classroom at Auckland's Cornwall Park Primary was set alight by arsonists using fireworks. It is a problem the fire service says has significantly increased. "What we know, is an arson season develops around about now," Fire Service manager Peter Wilding told ONE News. "We see an increase, almost a doubling in the number of school fires across New Zealand, for about the next two weeks."(0)

This was cut back to some degree by curtailing when fireworks could be on sale for:

In 2007, regulations were put in place restricting the sale of fireworks. This included reducing the days of sale from 10 to four, a move the Fire Service says dramatically reduced their workload.(0)

This illustrates how fireworks are dangerous as explosive material for incendiary action, and yet most legislatures, like that of Jersey, have severe restrictions on the movement of explosive, but exceptions in place for any fireworks, despite the fact that the Explosive's law covers fireworks: "explosives" has such meaning as prescribed, and shall include fireworks:

- No person shall use any explosives for any purpose except in accordance with a licence granted by the Minister.
- The provisions of this Article shall not apply to fireworks.

- No person shall purchase, acquire or have in his or her possession any explosives unless he or she is the holder of a licence granted to the person by the Minister authorizing such purchase, acquisition or possession.
- The provisions of this Article shall not apply to the sale, purchase, transfer, acquisition or possession of fireworks.

As one UK newspaper puts it: "The UK security service continually warn the public to beware of terrorist explosives and the once a year the UK sells tons of fireworks!".

If you know of any incidents, do report them to the police. One Deputy has told me that "It is important any anti-social incidents are reported to the police in order an 'i-log' is created which helps build up a picture of what is going on where so the police can target specific areas." Of course, it is very difficult for the police, as the miscreants have often moved on once they've set off their fireworks.

Incidents in the UK that are most dangerous come when fireworks are put through letterboxes. I know of only one case of that happening, back in the 1980s, when some bangers were pushed through the letterbox of a bungalow, inside which were a family of four. The father went out, caught the culprits, and allegedly literally banged their heads together, which is why the incident was not reported to the police. I wouldn't advise anyone to take their law into their own hands like that, but I did sympathise with his actions.

In Newcastle, there has been a spate of incidents, one involving a letterbox. The police caught a 16 year old with fireworks, and it does raise the question that, like drinking and smoking, it may be perfectly possible for younger teenagers to get hold of fireworks, despite strict laws on what can be sold. Someone older than 18 may legitimately buy fireworks, and sell them for a profit to youngsters, just as with drink or cigarettes, or the shop keeper may not exercise as much diligence in asking for proof of age as they should.

In the UK, not content with just having laws on age, they have been checked. In Surrey and elsewhere, a series of test purchases are being conducted across the county to check retailers are complying with age restrictions.

But age related laws can provide a level of control. When moves are afoot to increase the age for buying cigarettes and alcohol, it is perhaps perverse that no one has thought to increase the age at which fireworks can be bought to say, 21, to take it out of the range of the drinking culture.

Lives were put at risk when reckless pranksters hurled a firework through the letterbox of a home. The dangerous stunt was the latest in a spate of firework-related incidents in Newcastle's East End....PC Euan Faulke, of the Byker and Walker Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: "It may be seen by some as just a prank, but it poses a huge danger. "Unfortunately these people don't think of the possible consequences of their actions." Police have stepped up patrols in the Byker and Walker areas of Newcastle after a recent increase in firework-related disorder. Earlier this month more than 100 boxes of Chinese Black Cat banger fireworks, each box containing 10 bangers, were seized from a 16-year-old on the street. He received a summons for Possession of Adult Fireworks by a person under 18. PC Faulke added: "We just won't put up with people having a negative affect on the lives of their neighbours.(1)

In Stirling, a firework was set off in front of a home, causing damage. The police are evidently acting pro-actively to control the dissemination of fireworks - and note they are also looking at "those who set off fireworks outside prescribed times". Most of the "rogue fireworks" that I have heard in St Brelade being set off in past years were often done around 10.30 pm or later. In the UK, with regulations made under the Fireworks Act 2003, it is an offence for anyone to let fireworks off during night hours (11pm to 7am).

A family's life was put in danger after a "reckless" firework set fire to a house in the early hours of the morning, police have said. The firework was set off in front of a home in Drymen, Stirling, on Sunday morning while the family, including three children, were sleeping. The porch caught fire but the family escaped unharmed after a smoke alarm went off. A 23-year-old man is being questioned in connection with the incident. Ch Supt Davie Flynn, from Central Scotland Police, said: "It is beyond belief that someone would be so reckless as to set off a firework in the direction of a family home in the early hours of the morning while they slept." The force is in the second week of an operation to crack down on those who set off fireworks outside prescribed times or sell them illegally.(2)

The rapidity with which fireworks can explode also led to another incident in Tyneside. In this incident, a noise in the front garden led to fireworks being set off when the door was opened:

A South Tyneside mum had a lucky escape after a lit firework was allegedly thrown through her door. Donna Brown had opened the front door of her home in Shaw Avenue, Biddick Hall, after hearing a noise in the front garden in the early hours of Sunday. The 40-year-old mum-of-two was pinned against the wall of the passageway as the firework exploded, filling the downstairs property with smoke and causing fire damage to the carpet and sofa.

The best advice, as given by UK Chief Fire Office Paul Fuller is to go to regular organised displays:

Chief Fire Officer Paul Fuller says:

"Every year somewhere in the UK people are injured by fireworks. This is the beginning of a long season for fireworks and candlelit celebrations across a range of cultures represented in Beds and Luton. "On November 5th we recommend families go to organised displays. If you must have your own display then ALWAYS follow the Firework Code on the box. "Injuries and upset are also caused by people misusing fireworks by letting them off in public places at inappropriate times of the day and night. They are dangerous and should be treated with caution.

Statistics exist in the UK for firework related injuries. It would be interesting to see if Jersey's Casualty department has any significant rise in injuries around this time of year. That, of course, is further expense onto the Hospital running costs.

PATIENTS suffering from serious firework injuries are admitted to the Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery in Swansea every year. The majority of patients - adults and children - have injuries to their hands and face and many need to have skin grafts. Experts at the centre, in Morriston Hospital, said these injuries will have an impact on the patients' hand functions and facial appearance over a long period of time.(5)



Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,
I believe the law on explosives is currently being re drafted to cover some of this. The current situation is inconsistent - retailers need a license to sell, but it seems you can import by post without restriction as long as it is properly labelled!

Nick Palmer said...

Blanket bans on ad hoc use of fireworks outside of organised displays or "safe" garden parties is a bit draconian. As a brainy kid I took fireworks apart and set off various powders for fun. I launched rockets horizontally from a drain pipe on my shoulder in the manner of a missile. None of this was done with malicious intent.

Using fireworks carelessly and/or maliciously should be cracked down on. Using fireworks (with care) non maliciously should not be.

The whole idea is as dopey as those honoraries who would book you for doing 35 mph as you accelerated out of a 30 zone. Technically you are breaking the letter of the law but in terms of doing a bad thing you are not. Laws should be enforced to restrict people doing bad things, not just because somebody had broken the law, which often is inadequately drafted to handle all situations.

Justice is what people want and that is why they allow the law and the enforcers thereof to have power over them. If the law is nitpickingly applied so that justice is not done, it has no "moral compass" or validity.

TonyTheProf said...

The UK doesn't have a blanket ban, but it does curtail some of the worst offenders by (1) on the spot fines (less paperwork / court time) (2) curfew on hours of use (3) limitation of fireworks to private premises not public places.

Jersey has none of this, only a few restrictions on parks and gardens and roads, but nothing on other public areas - communal areas of housing estates, beaches, coastal headlands etc.