The Fourth of July may be a little over two months away, but it’ll be here before we know it. The Shawnee County Commission knows this, as they just approved nearly 30 applications to open a fireworks stand.
This does raise the question: How can you enjoy the July 4th holiday and still be safe? Topeka fire Marshal Alan Stahl offered some insight.
“We do experience a high volume of fireworks sales throughout Topeka,” Stahl said. “And the biggest thing we recommend is that people be very diligent with their fireworks.”
The public is allowed to purchase 1.4-type fireworks. These were formerly known as Class C common fireworks according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. According to the APA, illegal explosives are typically those that are unlabeled, but also include M-80s, M-100s and silver salutes.
Within the city of Topeka and Shawnee County, residents must follow state laws. This includes a ban on metal-core sparklers.
“Any sparkler sold in the city of Topeka will have to have a wooden rod,” Stahl said. “We also don’t allow the floating lanterns.”
Also prohibited by the city are bottle rockets, which is a state requirement. Despite the restrictions, Stahl says there’s “quite a bit of fireworks that are available.”
While Topeka and the surrounding areas are fairly green and humid right now, other parts of the state aren’t so lucky. Parts of western Kansas are experiencing a severe drought, which heightens risks of major brush fires.
When combined with the strong winds Topeka has been seeing, this can lead to a Marshall Fire type disaster.
These are known risks to the fire department, and Stahl says there are plans in place if drought conditions find their way to Topeka by July.
“The climate models show that we may potentially have a hot and dry summer,” He said. “And we become very, very concerned about fires that spread accidentally from fireworks.”
Even consumer-grade fireworks can spark a fire, especially if dry conditions exist. Weather experts predict a warmer than usual summer.
But right now this should not dissuade people from having fun, so long as they do so responsibly.
“I don’t want to discourage people from using fireworks,” Stahl said. “We just want to make sure they are really understanding the dangers, and they’re aware and taking steps to make sure they don’t get injured.”
Stahl says the best way to stay safe is to respect the fireworks they purchase.
Directions that come on the fireworks should provide necessary guidance on how best to use them. Even with this, Stahl says the city sees accidents every year due to fireworks. These are mostly dumpster fires, field fires and some roof fires, and Stahl said this is the fire department's busiest time of the year.
“Some consumer grade fireworks are very high powered explosives,” he said. “And while they’re safe when used correctly, they’re always dangerous.”
If someone is seriously injured, the best course of action is to call 911. This will get the fire department and other first responders on scene as quickly as possible. There is no charge for them to show up and help.
Safety steps can be taken at home too.
“Have a really high quality first aid kit available,” Stahl said. “Make sure that you have ability to care for wounds of any type.”
He also asked that children be supervised by adults if allowed to set off fireworks and advised against launching fireworks f hands.
“We see injuries every year where fireworks inadvertently explode,” Stahl said. “It just takes once to hurt you very, very severely.”
Alex Edwards is the local politics reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via twitter @AMEdwards21