Massachusetts is one of only three states with a complete ban on consumer fireworks, yet after every Fourth of July, communities around the state are left dealing with reports of illegal displays, fires, and injuries from the explosives.
The state is surrounded by more permissive jurisdictions, which makes it easy for fireworks to cross the border. Three high-profile injuries here over the holiday weekend have brought the issue into sharp relief, but officials say it’s a problem every year.
“These incidents underscore how important our messages is to leave the fireworks to the professionals,” State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said in a statement.
From 2005 to 2014, Massachusetts saw 785 major fire and explosion incidents that involved illegal fireworks, according to the Massachusetts Fire Incident Reporting System. These fires injured 11 civilians and four firefighters and cost an estimated $1.8 million.
During the same time period, 49 people — two-thirds of whom were under age 25 — sustained severe burn injuries from fireworks, according to the state’s Burn Injury Reporting System.
The state Division of Fire Safety also reported fireworks seizures in Pembroke, Hyannis, and Dennis during the holiday weekend. In Pembroke, a resident set up a show with illegal fireworks. In Dennis, large caches of fireworks estimated at more than $7,000 were confiscated.
Possessing fireworks in Massachusetts or transporting them into the state is illegal, even if they were purchased legally elsewhere. Two other states — Delaware and New Jersey — have a similar blanket ban.
Consumer fireworks are permitted in 43 states, including nearby New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. In Illinois, Ohio, Iowa, and Vermont, only sparklers and other novelty fireworks are allowed.
A 2013 report from the National Fire Protection Association argued that Massachusetts’ proximity to states with the legal sale of fireworks makes it easier for its residents to obtain them.
“This patchwork approach means that people living in a state that prohibits fireworks can often cross a state border to buy fireworks, thereby violating a state law that is difficult to enforce,” the report said.
According to the report, Massachusetts residents can “drive into neighboring New Hampshire – a trip of at most a couple of hours – and buy fireworks from rows of retail stands set up near the border for the convenience of the scofflaw trade.”
The National Fire Protection Association advocates that everyone treat fireworks — both legal and illegal — as suitable only for professionals.
“Safe and sane fireworks don’t exist,” Judy Comoletti, the association’s division manager of public education, in a statement. “When things go wrong with fireworks, they go very wrong, very fast, far faster than any fire protection provisions can reliably respond.”
Maine legalized consumer fireworks in 2012. This Fourth of July, a 22-year-old man died in Calais, Maine, when he set a mortar tube firework off on the top of his head, marking the first fireworks-related death in the state since the legalization.
Nationwide, at least 11 people died in 10 fireworks-related incidents in 2014, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated that 10,500 injuries treated in US hospitals involved fireworks in 2014. Roughly two-thirds of these injuries occurred between June 20 and July 20.
Men make up 74 percent of fireworks injury victims, and nearly half of injury victims are under the age of 20, according to the commission’s 2014 report.
Burns, most often to the hands or fingers, were the most frequent injury due to fireworks, the report found. One of the boys injured in Dorchester reportedly lost his hand due to the fireworks explosion.
The majority of fireworks-related injuries are caused by misuse, such as holding the explosive in hand or standing too close to lit fireworks.