Unless you live under a rock, you can't fail to be aware that Bonfire Night - Guy Fawkes Night, whatever you know it as - is fast approaching. Children start getting excited, pets start getting nervous - and I start writing articles about Bonfire Night and Firework Safety.
My regular source of safety advice comes from the Fire Service's website, where they have information both on Fireworks and running a Bonfire Display.
Even if you're putting on a small display for the children in your back garden, it's worth reading up on what to do before, during and after.
And remember - even experienced people make mistakes: my father in law mounted his bonfire last year on stone slabs he believed to be up to the job, only to find that once the core temperature of the fire had reached a sufficient intensity, the slabs began exploding rather dramatically. Queue running and screaming.
Information for Adults & Children
Having fireworks at home can be great fun, as long as they are used safely. Figures show more children rather than adults get hurt by fireworks. Over the past five years over 350 pre-school children, some only a year old, were treated in hospital for fireworks injuries.
Fireworks are safe if you use them properly. If you're putting on a home display, you should follow some simple steps to make sure that everyone has a good time without getting hurt.
Did you know that sparklers get five times hotter than cooking oil? Sparklers are not toys and should never be given to a child under five.
Where to buy
Don't cut corners just to save a few quid. Always buy fireworks from a reputable shop to make sure that they conform to British Standards. This means that they should have BS 7114 written on the box.
Sometimes shops open up for a short time before Bonfire Night but these may not be the best places to buy fireworks from. Staff in these shops might not be very knowledgeable about using fireworks safely and their fireworks might not meet British Standards.
Whatever you do, don't buy fireworks from anywhere you're not sure about, such as the back of a van or from a temporary, unlicensed market stall.
Setting them off
Only one person should be in charge of fireworks. If that's you, then make sure you take all the necessary precautions. Read the instructions in daylight and don't drink any alcohol until they've all been discharged. Make your preparations in advance, and in daylight. On the night, you will need...
• a torch.
• a bucket or two of water.
• eye protection and gloves.
• a bucket of soft earth to put fireworks in.
• suitable supports and launchers if you're setting off catherine wheels or rockets.
• Recruit people with previous experience of firework displays. Have as few people as possible actually involved with the fireworks.
• Do not allow smoking by your team when fireworks are being handled, or at any time during the display.
• Unpack fireworks with great care and well away from any open fire, naked flame or flammable material. Remember that they are fragile and can easily be broken. Keep fireworks in a secure box which is kept closed.
• Before lighting any firework, read the instructions on it carefully (by torchlight).
• Make sure that the wind and the display are angled away from spectators.
• For lighting display type fireworks, a device called a Portfire is often provided by the manufacturer. Use Portfires when available and always light fireworks at arm's length.
• Alternative forms of safety lighters, such as a slow match, are often available.
• Never use matches or lighters for lighting fireworks at a display. If any firework fails to go off, don't go back to it. It could still be live and could go off in your face. Half an hour is the absolute minimum time to wait before you consider approaching it again.
• A sudden change of wind could cause aerial fireworks to fall dangerously among spectators. In very windy weather, you should consider putting off the display altogether, however disappointing that might be.
If you're planning a bonfire
Bonfires need a lot of organising and can be a hazard. Many displays are a great success without one. If, after careful consideration, you do decide to have a bonfire, make one person responsible for it, from early planning to final clearing up.Don't site it too near your display or firework storage area.
• Never use flammable liquids like paraffin or petrol to get it going as this can result in uncontrolled spread of fire or explosion.
• Check immediately before lighting that there's no animal or even a young child hidden inside.
• Never put fireworks on a bonfire, even if they're dud.
• Don't burn dangerous rubbish (e.g. aerosols, paint tins or foam-filled furniture).
• Remove any rubbish from your bonfire area in advance so there's nothing that can be thrown onto the fire on the night.
The Fire Service website carries a lot of advice and information about best practice for both private and public displays, how to set up, how to run them, and how to pack up safely.
Better to be safe than sorry.
Silas Van Der Bas
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Silas Van Der Bas is a freelance writer and photographer with The Little White Studio.