There are many things that need to be taken into consideration when planning a firework show for the community. It is important that all parties involved in the display have good communication prior to, and during, the display. Choosing the proper display site, contacting the appropriate authorities, and following all recommended safety precautions are all paramount in putting on a safe show.
Choosing a Display Site
When choosing a site for your firework display, there are three important areas you need to take into account: make sure the site has adequate room for the discharge area, fall-out zone, and spectator area. The discharge area is the location where the fireworks are set off. The size of this area will vary depending on how much product will be used and how far apart the firing locations will be from one another. The fall-out zone is the space between the discharge area and the spectators. This is where debris and spent aerial fireworks may land, so it must be kept clear of spectators and other potential hazards. The total area needed for a fall-out zone is determined by the size or caliber of the largest firework used in the display. Virginia’s State Fire Marshall’s Office requires 100 feet of separation per inch of shell used. For example, if the largest shell used in the display is 4 inches in diameter, 400 feet of separation must be maintained between the discharge area and the spectators. The spectator area is the area from which spectators will watch the display. This area must be large enough for everyone anticipated to attend the event so the crowd does not cross into the fall-out zone.
Whom to Contact Prior to the Display
Notifications must be made to the local authorities, as well as nearby neighbors in advance of the intended display. It is recommended to contact them well before the display and follow up with them as things progress. The local police should be notified of your intention for a firework display. They can assist greatly in the logistics of the operation. The police can be useful for managing local traffic and parking, securing the safety area, and controlling the crowd. The local fire official must also be notified before any display. In most cases, a permit is required by the local fire official before a display can be approved. Although each locality may have their own specific requirements, the process for obtaining a permit generally requires proof of insurance and licenses, a proper map of the display site, and a list of all product intended to be used in the show. If a permit is not required for the display, it is still recommended that you contact the local fire authority. In most cases, especially in rural areas, it is recommended to have their services on standby in case an incident occurs.
Depending on the display site’s proximity to local area airports, the FAA might have to be notified of the display as well. The FAA controls the air space surrounding all airports. If a firework display is to occur within five miles of an area airport, a Notice to All Airman, or “NOTAM,” must be created notifying the air traffic controller and anyone flying in the area that day of the time, duration, radius, and maximum altitude of the firework display. It is recommended that you contact nearby neighbors, especially those with livestock, about any planned firework display. This will ensure they have the proper time to make arrangements if necessary. It is also good practice to contact any local hospitals and nursing homes to let them know fireworks will occur so it won’t frighten the residents.
On the day of the display, there are several things that need to be done to ensure the safe firing of the show. It is recommended to use some means of a barricade to separate the crowd from the fallout area. This can be done with fencing, caution tape, or even a natural barricade such as a body of water. If it is not feasible to physically barricade the fall-out zone from the crowd, the use of security personnel to keep that area clear is required. The wind must be monitored carefully before the display. Although the fall-out zone is usually large enough to keep the crowd a safe distance away, extreme winds can cause the debris to travel much further than expected. If the wind speed during the display exceeds 25 mph, the display should be canceled.
It is not always required, but it is a good idea for the sponsoring organization to sign an indemnity agreement with the firework company. This will release the sponsor from any liability that might occur as a result of the event. An additional insurance rider might also be required by the sponsor’s insurance company to cover such an event. The sponsor must check with their insurance agent to see what is required in this situation. There are many safety precautions and guidelines to follow when planning a firework display. If the sponsor, local authorities, and professional display company all work together to meet these guidelines you are well on your way to having a safe and successful show.
By Patrick Cyrana
Patrick is the principal at Advanced Pyrotechnics LLC. He has been involved in the firework industry since 2004, working alongside community organizers and municipal sponsors in assisting with the planning and logistics involved with both public and private firework displays.