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Reason to Celebrate • National Safety Month

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Story by Bill Mulherin

WE'VE ALL been there… the fourth of July is just around the corner and you are trying to figure out what to do this year. Consider these four scenes unfolding in the Omaha area:



“Dad!  Stop, pleeease!!!!” The backseat chorus erupts as we pass yet another brightly colored tent, this one with a big inflatable gorilla out front. “We want to get fireworks!”

“No,” I sigh, “not today. We’ll see as we get closer to the 4th.”

“I know what that means,” I hear my
12-year-old say to my 10-year-old, “that means no”.  I wince. No one wants to be the ogre parent, but fireworks are just so dangerous…


I’m lighting a rocket on my front lawn when something goes terribly wrong. The rocket doesn’t light at first and, as I approach it, a gust of wind blows it over. At that moment it lights, launching a shell right towards a line of family friends and neighbors, my audience for the show.  Luckily, no one is hit, but grandma sure was scared!


My teenage kids have been planning the aerial bombardment of the subdivision for weeks, one that would make Francis Scott Key’s heart beat just a little faster. A fireworks tent set up shop just a few blocks away and the kids, fists brimming with cash, are eager to buy.  Ironically, they need me to purchase a lighter for them. Stores won’t sell lighters to persons under 18… ahh, one of life’s little irony’s.


These vignettes all have one thing in common; Americans, celebrating, as only we can, the freedom of living in the greatest country on earth, with rocket’s red glare and bombs bursting in air.  Fireworks have been a staple of celebrating our freedom as long as I can remember, even as a very young child, watching them explode over the cliffs of Clifton, N.J. They are a unifying force, a common bond that cements the spirit of America.

Fireworks are also potentially dangerous and send scores of people to hospitals every year. Thousands of others scurry into the house seeking homespun remedies for minor burns and other slight injuries. They also cause the occasional house fire, particularly when winds are changing, conditions are dry, and embers linger.

Okay, so the negatives aside, why are we so fascinated with fireworks? What we know is that this is a long-term love affair; fireworks have been around for ages, going back to ancient China. Used for celebrations in the United States for quite some time, they are a mainstay of our Independence Day festivities. Perhaps it’s the bright colors; maybe it’s the noise, or possibly both. For some, there is a rush associated with the danger of just being near explosives. The truth is, we are simply enamored by mesmerizing pyrotechnics of all kinds.


This year, the city of Omaha joins the rest of Nebraska in celebrating with fireworks in new, legal ways. The common knowledge may be that fireworks are now “legal” in Omaha, but the reality is they’ve always been legal; it was just difficult to determine exactly which devices were allowed given the way the city ordinance previously defined “legal.”

That’s not to say that it stopped many of us from bringing just about anything into the metro. Literally thousands of pounds of fireworks were exploded inside city limits each year.

The city council and at least our current and previous mayors (Jim Suttle and Mike Fahey) had endorsed changing the city’s ordinance, but it wasn’t until a 2010 revision in state law that local officials found the situation ripe for change. Moving carefully and with an eye towards safety, the city designed a new ordinance, one that allows for regulated stands and the easy identification of legal fireworks, all while also serving the need for safety education.


With 35 sites for buying fireworks in the city, not to mention the many locations just over the city line, there are now plenty of options to purchase legal products.

The Nebraska Fire Marshall tests fireworks every year and determines what is and is not allowed in the state. If you purchase in the city, you can be confident that you won’t run afoul of state law. Since many localities, including Omaha, require stands to be run by nonprofits, you’ll be also helping out local causes with every purchase.

Can you still purchase in such neighboring states as Missouri, South Dakota, or even Iowa? Some of you will, but it might not be a wise idea. You run the risk of buying fireworks that aren’t legal anywhere in Nebraska, and the state’s consumer protection laws might not be available to you if something goes wrong. If it’s the “big stuff” that you seek and you believe that such goods are only available across a state line, know that Nebraska’s new law now allows for many of these to be sold here. Save the 200 mile round trip, stay legal, and support local non-profits by buying in the city.


Having a plan means knowing both what to do when the time comes and what to avoid doing in the first place. Without a doubt, drinking alcohol and lighting fireworks should never be allowed to mix. Selecting a site to launch the firecrackers should be done during daylight hours, keeping in mind that some devices have the ability to travel several hundred feet. It’s best to avoid power lines, trees, and densely packed areas of areas of people, buildings or cars.  Keep an eye on the weather forecast and look for a calm evening, even if it is cloudy.

A bucket of water is essential to dispose of used fireworks. It doesn’t hurt to have a garden hose hooked up as well, just in case. A first aid kit should be nearby and someone should be designated to be at the ready if it is needed. Plan on ending your show at a reasonable time – Omaha’s ordinance says you have to be done by midnight. Be a good neighbor by cleaning up afterward.

Look for fireworks safety tips, where to buy fireworks in Omaha and information on Omaha-area public shows at www.SafeNebraska.org.



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