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Avoid a Firework Mishap with These 10 Safety Tips

Since the fireworks laws in Iowa changed, you can light off much more than a pack of sparklers. Practice these safety habits to avoid ending your celebration in the ER.


Kids sitting together, watching fireworks

Fireworks are an American tradition. Grand displays light up the skies to celebrate our independence every Fourth of July. In the winter, they’re shot off to ring in the new year. And on Friday nights in the summer, fireworks boom over downtown Des Moines at the end of Iowa Cubs home games.

On all occasions, they are a wonder to watch. But those big shows use display fireworks and are handled by licensed professionals. In 2017, fireworks were made available to the untrained when the Iowa legislature signed a law opening up the sale, possession and use of consumer fireworks. With these changes, Iowans are allowed to go above and beyond the typical sparkler festivities.

When is it legal to shoot off fireworks in Iowa?

Iowa fireworks laws regulate both the sale and use of fireworks. You can buy and explode them in two windows every year. Around the Fourth of July, fireworks are legal June 1 through July 8. Around New Year’s Day, it’s okay to purchase and light them from December 10 to January 3.

There are also limits to the times of day you can use fireworks. It’s only legal between the hours of 9 am and 10 pm. That window extends on certain days, giving you extra time to light the night:

  • July 4 and the Saturdays and Sundays immediately before and after the holiday until 11 pm
  • December 31, New Year’s Eve, until 12:30 am on New Year’s Day
  • Saturdays and Sundays immediately before New Year’s Day until 11 pm

State laws are one thing; local ordinances are another. Each city can set its own ordinances to further restrict fireworks or ban them altogether. And most communities in central Iowa have done so.

Most cities in the Des Moines metro area have banned them outright. You can still buy them in the timeframes outlined by the state, but it is illegal to set off fireworks in Des Moines, Altoona, Clive, Johnston, Urbandale, West Des Moines, and Windsor Heights at any time.

Surrounding communities have looser restrictions on when you can set off fireworks, but almost all of them ban use in the New Year’s Eve timeframe. These local ordinances for when fireworks are legal are still much stricter than what the state allows:

  • Ankeny – July 4, 9 am to 11 pm
  • Bondurant – July 3, 2 to 10 pm, and July 4, 2 to 11 pm
  • Carlisle – July 1–4, noon to 11 pm
  • Indianola – July 3–5, 9 am to 10 pm and until 11 pm on the July Fourth holiday
  • Norwalk – June 29 to July 8, 4 to 10 pm and December 31, 9 am, to January 1, 12:30 am
  • Pleasant Hill – July 4, noon to 11 pm
  • Waukee – July 3–4, 9 am to 11 pm

With all these laws, you must first know when and where you are legally allowed to shoot off fireworks. Then you need to take additional precautions to keep you and your family safe from injury. 

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How can I prevent firework-related injuries and burns?

Since Iowa introduced legal fireworks, firework-related injuries in the state have increased 65 percent, according to Iowa Department of Public Health data. Burns are the most frequent injuries and are most likely to injure the hands, head, neck and eyes. This can result in third-degree burns, permanent scarring, blindness — even death.

So if you choose to celebrate with your own fireworks, Urgent Care Physician, Matthew Otis, DO recommends you follow these 10 safety tips to stop an emergency room or urgent care visit from ruining your holiday fun:

  1. Leave the fireworks to the adults. Fireworks are dangerous and should never be in the hands of a child. Never let a child light one off or hold or throw a lit firecracker.
  2. Don’t mix fireworks with alcohol. Safe handling of fireworks requires a clear mind. Alcohol affects your decision-making, alertness and reaction time — three things you need at peak levels.
  3. Wear the latest fireworks fashion. Upon ignition, a hot spark can shoot at you before you have time to react. Protect your eyes by wearing safety goggles if you’re the one lighting fireworks. Everyone involved should wear tight-fitting clothes so that nobody catches on fire.
  4. Stay a safe distance away. Consumer fireworks can be pretty large. Everyone should stay back a sufficient safe distance away from the launch zone. Only light one at a time and join the viewers in the safe zone as soon as the firework ignites.
  5. Be conscious of the conditions. A single heatwave can dry out your lawn and landscaping in the summer. Never set off fireworks on dry grass or point them toward dry foliage — and be aware of any wind conditions that may send them in the wrong direction.
  6. Keep H2O on hand. Always have a water source like a hose nearby. A still-burning firecracker or spark can quickly ignite the surrounding area. Douse them quickly with water before they erupt into flames.
  7. Don’t mess with duds. Sometimes a firework doesn’t actually work. Don’t try to light it again. Instead, wait for it to cool off, soak it with water and dispose of it properly.
  8. Pick up everything and throw it all away. Fireworks leave a lot of debris scattered in a lot of locations. When the show’s over, wet down all spent shells and firecrackers and put them in a metal trash can away from any flammable materials.
  9. Be a good neighbor. Fireworks are loud, disruptive and potentially traumatic. Be aware of anyone, or any pet, in the area who is sensitive to loud noises. The booms and cracks can scare children and trigger those who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  10. Store unused fireworks safely. If anything is left over or you stocked up for the next holiday, store it in a cool, dry place far away from any ignition sources.

The best thing you can do to prevent firework-related accidents and injuries is to leave it to the professionals. Instead of worrying about the safety of yourself, your friends, and your family, you can sit back, relax and enjoy the show like everyone else.

Even in a professional setting, accidents happen. If you or someone else suffers a firework-related injury, visit an Urgent Care location in West Des Moines or Ankeny. Any accident that happens after hours, on a holiday or leads to more severe injury requires immediate medical attention. Call 9-1-1 or head to your nearest emergency room as soon as possible to get the appropriate care.

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