6 Fireworks Safety Precautions Cities Should Take

People enjoy watching spectacular public fireworks displays to celebrate July 4th. But fireworks can also pose serious hazards for municipalities.

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Setting off fireworks is a common way communities celebrate July 4th. But while such occasions can be thrilling, fireworks liability is deadly serious for municipalities.

Consider that in 2016, an estimated 7,600 people were treated in U.S. emergency departments for fireworks-related injuries in a four-week period including July 4th, according to a report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

When local governments are responsible for overall planning and control of a public fireworks display, removing all liability faced by cities is difficult at best. Not to mention, public entity risk managers don’t want to be the roadblock preventing traditional community celebrations. All affected departments and services should work together with the risk manager to reduce the risk exposure cities face when hosting fireworks displays.

  1. 1. Go with the pros

    Although city employees may have been trained and certified in putting on fireworks displays, localities still should consider hiring a professional operator. That way, a municipality can contractually transfer to the operator much of the risk associated with putting on a display.

  2. 2. Assign Responsibility

    Event review teams should include representatives from affected departments, including parks and recreation, fire/police/EMS and safety/risk management. Team members should be familiar with federal, state and local laws and ordinances as well as guidelines from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Talk to your agent or broker to determine the terms and conditions of your public entity liability policy as it pertains to fireworks displays.

  3. 3. Select a vendor

    Using a request for proposal (RFP), the committee should seek a reputable, knowledgeable outfit to handle all aspects of a fireworks display. While costs should be considered, an RFP should also address vendors’:

    • Experience and certifications
    • Familiarity with Department of Transportation requirements for fireworks delivery, state permits or certifications, and provisions related to NFPA codes 1123, 1124 and 1126
    • Proposed approach to your specific event
  4. 4. Prepare a contract

    Although it won’t completely absolve a government of responsibility, a thorough contract will clearly task your chosen vendor with overall event planning and execution – and will minimize the liability exposure of the municipality. Ensure that the contract addresses:

    • Vendor obligation to follow all applicable laws and regulations
    • Vendor responsibilities for planning, permitting, pyrotechnic transportation and storage, event setup and execution, cleanup, and site inspection
    • Minimum insurance coverage and limits of liability
    • Adequate indemnity and hold harmless clauses
    • What happens if the event is canceled

    Cities should also make sure the contract undergoes a thorough legal review.

  5. 5. Find the right site

    Cities should involve vendors in site evaluation, taking these factors into consideration:

    • Identifying the fallout area and ensuring it’s clear of combustible materials
    • Identifying parking, emergency pathways and spectator areas
    • Determining if there are ways to prevent people from entering the fallout zone
  6. 6. Safeguard the area afterward

    Once the fireworks are over, take these additional steps to reduce risks even more:

    • Keep spectators out of the area.
    • Thoroughly inspect the grounds for unexploded fireworks and burning debris.
    • Conduct a follow-up inspection the next day to determine if anything was missed.

No city is immune to risks when it comes to hosting public fireworks displays. But thoughtful planning along with attention to key risk-control and risk-transfer tactics will help make your next event safe and fun.

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