Fighting forbidden Fireworks: ATF shows explosive Fourth of July dangers

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parella 3SEATTLE — It’s a fireworks display designed to teach.

“We’ve had a rash of these, they’re all over the place in Western Washington. It’s essentially an M-80 launcher, says ATF explosives expert, Special Agent Brennan Phillips, as he points to something that looks like a roman candle, but obviously much more powerful.

Special Agent Phillips is part of specialized training that the ATF holds for first responders and city prosecutors.

“So our concern is someone’s driving down the road with these doctored-up fireworks, they get into an automobile wreck, and the fire guys roll up on this to deal with it and we now have a firebomb,” Phillips explains. Because some of the fireworks out there can mimic improvised explosives, that can add to the danger of transporting them inside a car.

Last year, there were more than 300 firework-related injuries and fires in Washington State alone, and the misuse of the legal ones made up about one-third of those.

But sometimes, it’s hard to tell the legal from the illegal, like the one called “The Jokes On You” being sold at reservations across the country. Phillips explains, “It has a little sparkle effect  like you would hold this in your hand, and then it explodes with enough force to take your hand off, so something we’re really concerned about and trying to get off the street.”

There are also explosives in the black market like the tennis ball bomb. It’s a Pacific Northwest original that’s left its mark across our state. “Very dangerous. Lots of explosives in it. Lots of hands removed. Lots of visits to the hospital,” Phillips said.

But for the average consumer, it’s fireworks like the “Light Sabre’ that Special Agent Phillips says is nothing to celebrate. “A roman candle. Perfectly legitimate consumer fireworks normally. This one is masquerading as a legitimate consumer fireworks, but it shoots flash powder devices.”

So how can you tell whether a simple firework you buy at a stand is really an improvised explosive device? Phillips explains, “How do people know what’s legal and what’s not? Well, one of the things right off the bat is the Consumer Product Safety Commission requires that these things be labeled so consumers can identify them, and have some sense of how they work.”

The explosive event held every year is a reminder to be safe when celebrating, and if you can, always make the smartest choice and leave the fireworks displays in the hands of the professionals.