Fireworks – What can go wrong

Although things can go wrong in a fireworks display, the chances of injury resulting from this can be significantly reduced (if not eliminated completely) if you have followed the guides on UKFR for setting up and firing. This article looks at possible pant-staining moments and how your safety approach ensures they’re not usually a problem.


Fireworks tipping over

This is one of the worst possible problems to occur in a fireworks display. Here the firework is not properly secured and tips over while it is firing. In the most serious cases the shots are fired towards spectators.

The chances of this happening to you can be reduced to almost zero by following the setting up guides on this site and ensuring every single firework is secure. Even if you are just firing one firework take time to make sure you set it up properly. After all, fireworks are explosives.

Never underestimate the power of smaller fireworks including those in selection boxes. Quite often these are the most dangerous because people wrongly assume you don’t need to bother securing them. But you do, regardless of the size of the firework always show it some respect.


Shots going off at ground level

Every so often you will get a shot that does not lift into the air. This could be because of a fault or because of a lack of lifting charge. It can also be caused if a shot explodes prematurely in one of the tubes, causing the following shots to go off at ground level. In this photo you can see the moment a shot exploded on the ground next to the firework it came from:

Fireworks Malfunction

A shell from a Category 3 firework exploding on the ground next to the firework.

The cameraman who took this photo was your Editor, Pyro Pete who was standing 25m away – the required distance for this category of firework. You will notice the explosion does not come close to the camera, proving how critical the safety distance is. You can imagine the problem this would have caused if the firework had been used in a very small garden.

Always  observe the safety distance required by the firework with no exceptions. Always consider the worst possible outcome and ask yourself “What if this firework exploded on the ground – do I have the required safety distance?”.

As for the firer in the above shot, he was wearing full protective clothing including helmet, goggles and a sturdy jacket. The exploding shell was therefore of little hazard to him. The photograph does however clearly show the importance of wearing protective clothing. Without this you or your firers could be at risk of injury if this happens to you.


Part fired fireworks

Fireworks are hand made and the internal fuse which links all of the shots is usually inserted by hand. Sometimes this does mean there could be a problem with the fusing and this will cause the firework to suddenly stop. This is very rarely a safety issue but you must not go back to the firework and try and relight it – there is nothing to light – nor should you stand over it scratching your head. Leave it alone, preferably for a while in case the fuse is still smouldering inside. Sometimes a part-fired firework can spring back to live many minutes later.

Firework Problems

On the left a cake which has stopped part way through. On the right, a cake which has suffered an explosion in one of the tubes which has caused the cake to stop then catch fire.

Sometimes a firework can stop because a shot has exploded while still in the tube and this can rupture the fuse. This is slightly more of a worry because the firework could be damaged and shots might go off on the ground. The firework might in rare cases catch fire. Provided you have observed the safety distance and your firers are wearing protective clothing this should not be a problem. Give the firework a wide berth and plenty of time to go out.


Fall out over the audience

If during your display you notice fall out such as sparks or embers, or even rocket casings, heading towards or over the audience you need to make an immediate decision about whether it is safe to continue. It could be that a sudden change in wind direction or strength is taking your fall out in an unexpected direction. Never be pressured into continuing the display in the hope things will be alright.  You may need to abandon the display, or move the audience, or drop some of the higher items like rockets from the display.


Cross ignition

This is where the sparks or embers from one firework ignites another. If you have set your fireworks up properly and they are all secured this is never a problem. Yes it might be embarrassing if your finale goes up at the start, but because all the fireworks are in the exact place they would be for firing, there is no safety concern. You can reduce the chances of cross ignition by spacing your fireworks out more or using tin foil over the top of them.


A fuse lights but nothing happens

If you light a fuse, it smoulders but then nothing happens, move onto the next firework. Do not risk going back to the firework and trying to light it again. This is one of the most fundamental safety points which is even included in the fireworks code. It can be really disappointing if this happens especially if it was an expensive firework. But it’s just not worth the risk trying to light it again. Providing damp was not the cause of the fuse failure your retailer should be sympathetic to refunding or replacing the item. Do give the firework plenty of time (overnight if possible) to make sure it won’t suddenly come to life!


A final word

If you are putting on a big display for the first time and are a little worried, don’t be. Providing you take all reasonable safety precautions the chances of problems are rare. And, if they do happen, the chances if injury even rarer. Injuries nearly always happen to people who don’t bother with firework safety.

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