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A Practical Guide to 4th of July Fireworks Etiquette

A Practical Guide to 4th of July Fireworks Etiquette

Judging by the sheer number of "firework fail" videos out there, the etiquette of pyrotechnics are not as obvious as you'd think. We've pulled together, through time and space, a list of the biggest DIY fireworks disasters (along with some inspirational success stories). Below, our handy guide for getting through the 4th of July without incident.

DON'T ingest fireworks.

Bringing fireworks to eat all by yourself is not just bad manners, it's kind of painful, too. Look at this kid thinking safety goggles are somehow going to minimize the hurt. Lighting a firecracker in your mouth is like discharging a bulletless muzzleloader down your throat – how are you not going to regret this? (A lot of folks don't seem very concerned about the consequences, as fireworks-in-mouth footage has its own genre. Maybe they have great health insurance?)

DO leap on top of the firework aimed directly at the crowd.

Fireworks don't always do what you want them to, something John Cuticchia knows all too well. In 1984, Cuticchia lit an 8-inch shell that fell over instead of shooting 100 feet into the air. Cuticchia promptly kicked the shell away, preventing it from firing directly into a crowd of thousands that had gathered for a Beach Boys concert. According to his son, Cuticchia "got knocked over ... made a somersault. Then he came staggering over to us." But though he sustained injuries "above the groin," he even instructed his son to keep the show going.

 

DON'T drop fireworks down manholes.

With their volatile gases and floating gasoline and oils, sewer tunnels are not an environment where you'd want to introduce a flame. Nah, scratch that: It's totally awesome dropping a bomb into a manhole, as this man proved in grainy footage ostensibly recorded this year in Xiangtan. If he was a little quicker on his feet this stunt would've been pyrotechnic perfection; as it is, he probably still has his jaw wired shut.

DO go green by using "compressed air" to lift fireworks.

First tested by Disney in 2004, the compressed air firework (the "pyrotechnic industry's first major breakthrough in decades") eliminates the need for smoke-producing black powder at launch. This, in turn, reduces ground-level smoke and noise.

DON'T brag about the "massive and illegal" pyrotechnics display you're hosting to the local paper.

For 20 years, Jack Stewart threw an "over-the-top" Fourth of July neighborhood bash, complete with a fireworks display worth thousands of dollars. He did this even though fireworks are very, very illegal in his hometown of Buffalo. The shows went on without incident until Stewart did an interview with The Buffalo News, bragging about his show. The piece prompted the city to revoke Stewart's block party permit and place two parked police cars outside his door.

DO stand away from bystanders when blowing yourself up.

This video makes the case better than any write-up ever could.

DO move away when you hear the sound of a lit fuse.

That simple strategy kept a Disney employee from being blown to smithereens by a malfunctioning firework.

DON'T make accidental IEDs.

Here's the thing about fireworks - when they explode, they usually break the thing they're inside, creating a de facto bomb that flings sharpnel everywhere. So it's a good idea to keep your lit poppers out of glass jars. Just a thought.

DON'T try to smuggle 3,950 pounds of fireworks from Mexico in a U-Haul van.

You'll probably get caught as you're trying to get through the Yermo Agricultural Inspection station. This bust was part of a month-long crackdown by state officials, who netted more than 13,000 pounds of fireworks across the High Desert. Those caught and convicted face a $5,000 fine and a year in jail.

DO comfort your pets, but also probably set off some fireworks near this lady's house.

PETA staff writer Lindsay Pollard-Post argues in an op-ed today that cities ought to pledge to go fireworks-free in deference to our four-legged friends. While we encourage neighborly behavior like not setting off Roman candles at 4 AM and warning anyone on your block with a skittish puppy of your intention to celebrate America's birthday with explosives, the very notion of a laser light show-based alternative 4th of July makes us want to cry.

DON'T sell illegal fireworks to undercover cops.

That's what 24-year-old NYFD emergency medical technician Anthony Baijnauth is accused of doing late last month. City fire department employees should really know better, then again so should everyone else.

DO donate when the budget for a beloved community fireworks display is cut.

The Stars Burst Over Carlisle in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was at risk of cancellation (the borough couldn't afford the $22,000 tab) when the mayor devised a clever plan - he asked residents to chip in. And chip in they did, raising $17,000. The American Legion kicked in the rest.

John Metcalfe, Nate Berg, Mark Byrnes, and Sommer Mathis contributed to this post.

Amanda Erickson is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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