fireworks stand

In the United States, we celebrate Independence Day, a federal holiday that commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. On July 4, 1776, the United States officially declared independence from the UK. We call it the 4th of July and commonly celebrate it with fireworks. For some, this includes going to some public location where the “professionals” shoot off the fireworks when it gets dark. But for the more adventurous, we light fireworks off ourselves in our backyards, whether they are legal or not.

First and foremost, we need to point out that it is illegal (meaning that you will get a fine) in many locations in the United States to possess or light fireworks. Not only are the State laws, there are even local ordinances that dictate whether or not you can light or even possess fireworks. In Texas, for example, it’s okay to purchase fireworks from June 20th to July 4th, and there are lots of people who set up temporary buildings in order to sell them. It’s perfectly okay to purchase them and light them off in certain locations: but there are local ordinances where you cannot even possess them (or even have them in your car), and the local city officials (the fire marshall or other public officer) will confiscate them. You might even get a fine and have to appear in court. So, make sure that you check the local laws if you plan on buying, possessing, or lighting fireworks.

That said, here is how to buy fireworks and what you need to know.

First, I would check out your local newspaper. Typically, the local newspaper, just before the 4th of July, will post information about where you can see fireworks in your area (public professional displays) and they may print the local laws and regulations in your area. Here in Texas, many of the local fireworks vendors actually take out full page ads in the local newspaper advertising that they’re selling them, and offer discounts and coupons. But, in any case, you can also check out the American Pyrotechnics Association, and search their directory of state laws.

Secondly, decide on what type of fireworks you want to purchase. Some fireworks can legally be sold in your area and some kinds of fireworks cannot be sold in your area. They’re typically put into several different “classes” of fireworks. The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) categorizes explosive devices into Class A, B, or C:

– Class C common fireworks, now known as consumer fireworks, include fireworks intended for general public use.

– Class B special fireworks are now classified as 1.3G explosives and are intended for use only as display fireworks.

– Class A consists of solid explosives, such as TNT and dynamite.

Class C Common Fireworks
The Class C Common Fireworks, or ‘consumer’ fireworks, is the type of fireworks that you can I can purchase. You can mention them by saying “consumer fireworks” or even 1.4G fireworks. Keep in mind that the “G” in 1.4G fireworks does NOT refer to the word “gram”, though. The “G” does not have anything to do with grams. The numbers and letters come from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “Hazardous Materials Table” which is a huge and complex set of regulations.

firecrackers-high-speed
High speed photo of firecracker exploding courtesy of nebarnix on Flickr.

The most common type of fireworks (perhaps the most safe, other than sparklers) is the firecracker. You can buy firecrackers in packs or in a brick or a gross. There are many brands of firecrackers, including Black Cat and many other brands. They come in various assorted packs, so shop around. A firecracker, when lit, will make a single blast or “pop” sound, and it is when you string many firecrackers together and fire them off all at once when they make a “pow, pow, pow”, repeating sound. Firecrackers have a fuse and only takes a few seconds (or even less) before they explode.

Sparklers or sparkling fireworks that remain on the ground are typically called “ground displays” or “ground effects”. They remain on the ground when you light them and they typically shoot out a lot of colorful sparks. This includes fountains and cones, and tanks and other ground effects. If you just want to have some basic fireworks that are fairly safe to light in your driveway then I would buy ground displays. A few examples of ground displays are shown below, and you can buy them online here:

fountains-cones

jupiter-cone

The next type of class c common fireworks is what I would call the “aerials”. This includes anything that you light and stand back…and it shoots up into the air. Aerials need a lot of room and the area where they could possibly land needs to be an area that can’t easily light on fire. Don’t point them near anyone or near any building, as they could easily catch on fire. That said, aerials are always great fun, and can include reloadable shells and mortars (they shoot up high and then explode with sparks in the air), repeaters and cakes, roman candles, and tubes, mines, and shells. Bottle rockets are very popular, and there are many different types of bottle rockets, some even whistle when they fly through the air. A few samples of aerial fireworks are shown below:

air-assault

aerial-fireworks

Class B Special Fireworks
The Class B Fireworks, or 1.3G fireworks, are the Display Fireworks that you will typically see when you go to a public event that has very large fireworks displays. They typically will have the fire department stationed nearby, and it takes a while for them to set it all up. According to Bob Weaver, “In the United States, buyers of 1.3G display fireworks must have a permit from the ATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) in order to buy these large fireworks. Anyone can apply to get the permit, but it is up to the ATFE to decide whether to grant the permit or not.”

Class A Fireworks
Class A fireworks are typically things like TNT and dynamite. You’re probably not going to be able to legally purchase this, so I wouldn’t bother even thinking about it. These typically require a permit and special training to handle properly (and a license), so you should probably leave it up to the professionals.

For more information about the different classifications of fireworks, Bob Weaver has a great explanation here on this site, along with links to other information about being “safe and sane” when shooting fireworks.

sparklers-poppers
Photo courtesy BuySparklers.com.

Our local Walmart store has class C fireworks, but really are novelty items. These include sparklers, snakes, snappers, tanks, and poppers. You can get a package that has several different items in it, and those are typically okay for kids to use (with adult supervision, of course). If you buy them, they’re going to ask you to prove that you’re over 18.

fireworks-stand
Photo courtesy Eli the Bearded
on Flickr.

If you decide you want to purchase fireworks and there are fireworks stands in your local area, then you’ll need to go to the ATM and get a bunch of cash (for an evening’s worth of entertainment you’ll probably need at least $100 to $500 on up). Some of the more well established businesses that sell fireworks will accept your credit or debit card, but don’t count on it. Cash is always best.

Don’t buy at the first fireworks stand that you come to. It pays to shop around a bit, and many of the fireworks sellers are willing to haggle a bit. Tell them that you’re looking to spend $500 on fireworks and they’ll typically throw in a bunch of extra stuff that you typically wouldn’t get if you were to pick and choose certain fireworks, one at a time. You might even try to find a location where there are several fireworks stands nearby. You can typically go to one stand, ask they what they’ll give you for your $500, and then try another stand: tell them that you were just over at the other stand and they were willing to make you a great deal.

Whatever you do, whether you decide to buy fireworks at your local stand or go see a public display, play it safe and have a great Fourth of July.