This guide is to help those new to firework displays appreciate some of the safety issues and methods required to fire fireworks safely.
This summary is for fireworks for general retail sale, classified as category 3.
Category 4 classified fireworks are display fireworks and are to be fired by properly qualified professionals with years of experience.
Professionals also have full insurance, carry the BPA qualification as competent to fire and are an employee of a licensed firework display company.
Shells are classified as cat 4 fireworks and are not covered, as they are not available to the general public.
One of the keys to safety is plenty of space round the firing area.
Select a site and rope or fence off an area of sufficient size, with a minimum of 100 metres wide by 60 metres deep.
This gives ample room for setting up the display while keeping spectators at a safe distance.
1. Select a site where
The prevailing wind will carry smoke and debris away from the spectators (remember rockets fly into the wind).
It is well clear of buildings, parked cars and where the rear and the sides are clear of buildings, cars and people.
There is a 60 meters or more fallout area behind the site in which spent rockets can fall without harm.
The fall out area should be as large as possible.
2. Keep spectators well back from the fireworks at all times, at least 30 metres from any firework.
The greater this distance, the better they will be able to see and appreciate the effects of the display in safety.
3. Space the large items well apart with at least 10 metres between Set Pieces and 7 metres between Candles.
There should be at least 5 metres between each line of fireworks. Put lancework (Battles, Good Nights, etc.)
Clear of other fireworks to prevent their accidental ignition.
Mine tubes in their drums or buried in the ground and rocket launchers must be at the rear of the site, as far away from spectators as possible.
Make a plan of your site using the suggested layout plan as a guide to check your safety distances (all dimensions in meters)
Click for a bigger image of the suggested firing site layout
Unpack all the fireworks carefully as soon as possible after they arrive, in a safe place away from any source of flame. Remember that fireworks can be fragile.
We suggest the instructions on each of he fireworks are read so that you are familiar with what they will do and can plan how to set them out.
Then make a plan of your firing area using the suggested layout plan as a guide, with each item shown in its chosen position.
Obtain all the equipment you will need for setting up, particularly the wooden uprights, stakes, poles, drums etc.
Draw up a firing order starting with a rocket or rockets, then in rotation; Roman candles, Set pieces, Mines and Rockets. Finish with a large candle bouquet or a “Good Night” and a final rocket salvo.
Key Safety Points
With firework safety there are a few common-sense rules to be followed;
1. Never allow smoking or naked lights anywhere near fireworks.
2. Do not drink alcohol if setting off fireworks, after a few pints most things seem like a good idea.
3. Read the instructions before starting to set up a display, they will tell you what to expect when they are lit.
4. Never lean over or put your body in the path of fireworks. Especially when firing mines, cakes or rockets. Mines fire at over 200 miles per hour, a speed you will never be able to outrun.
5. Light fireworks with portfires at arms length. Don’t try to do it with a match or cigarette lighter, you will burn your hand and the wind might blow them out. Portfires are a slow-burning firework made for the purpose that burns for about 4 minutes with a hot flame.
6. Never put a firework in your pocket. Lighted fireworks in the crotch area are never welcome.
7. Keep your fireworks dry nothing worse than a damp squib and damp fireworks are dangerous.
8. Keep unused fireworks covered and away from lighted fireworks, a secure box with a lid is best.
9. Treat fireworks gently – some fireworks are fragile.
10. Never go near a firework that has been lit. Even if it hasn’t gone off, it could still explode.
11. Wear protective clothing, which covers you well with tight sleeves and close fitting neck so that sparks cannot get inside. Avoid synthetic materials, which melt when anything hot lands on them.
Head protection, site crash helmets that can be found in DIY stores
Eye protection, protective goggles designed for use near explosives
Ear defenders or plugs should be used when firing noisy fireworks
Two to four people will be sufficient to handle a display depending on its size. Each operator must be familiar with the fireworks manufactures safety instructions and understand how the display is laid out and fired. Everyone else should be kept out of the way.
The following tools and equipment may be needed:
Sharp Knife or heavy-duty scissors
Various sizes of nails, e.g. 1″, 2″, 3″
Torch or head torch (from camping stores)
1. Collect all the stakes required for the set pieces, candle bouquets, etc. according to the timber list supplied, and mark out the site. Drive in the stakes at their appropriate places so that they are firm in the ground. Place the drums for mines in position and drive in the rocket launcher(s).
2. Fix SET PIECES onto their uprights using wire and/or nails. The uprights should be 4 to 5 metres high. Place the pieces in position on the site against their stakes.
3. ROMAN CANDLE BOUQUETS AND BATTERIES must be fixed firmly on the ground in an upright position by tying or wiring them to stakes driven into the ground.
If the ground is too hard, they may be supported with sandbags on each side to stop them falling over.
Don’t fix them onto long stakes to raise them up – they need to fire on the ground so that the bases of the candles have a firm support. Always put wooden stakes in front of the firework so it is between the audience and firework. This ensures in the un-lightly event of a failure the firework will fall backwards and fire away from the crowd.
4. GROUND MINES are supplied ready-loaded in their own mortar tubes. These should be buried for two-thirds of their length in a tub of dry sand or earth. When ignited, after the appropriate delay they throw up a fountain of stars from the mortar tube. Again put the wooden stake in front of the firework as above.
5. ROCKETS are supplied with a launcher which should be driven into the ground at the rear of the site and angled away from the spectators so that spent rockets will drop into the fallout area. The launcher may be a wooden frame to take four or six rockets at a time or a tube or tubes for single firing. Keep spare rockets well covered and stored clear in a secure box away from other fireworks.
Firing the display
Some set pieces, Roman candle bouquets and finales, Battles and the “Good Night” are usually fitted with electric ignition, which is initiated by battery. A 4½-volt battery is usually supplied with these packs when one item only is being fired at a time.
Rockets, mines and other fireworks not fitted with electric ignition are ignited with a portfire, which is a slow-burning firework made for the purpose. It is a long thin tube (about 25cms long and 1cm diameter) usually with a twist of blue touch paper at one end to light it. It burns for about 4 minutes with a hot flame. Use portfires at arm’s length and preferably attached to a stick, or use a portfire holder.
When display start time approaches, remember to limit the number of people on the firing site to the minimum. For most displays two to four will be sufficient, detailed as follows:
One (or two) to fire the set pieces and roman candles
One (or two) to fire the mines and rockets
One to reload the rockets.
On the smallest displays it may be feasible for the person firing the mines and rockets to reload as well, but for the sake of smooth continuity it is better to have someone detailed for this task.
On larger displays it may be easier to separate responsibility for the set pieces and roman candles and have a team for each. Whatever you do, keep the numbers to the minimum required, and keep everyone else out of the way.
Use the firing order you have previously prepared and endeavour to maintain continuity. Avoid gaps when nothing is happening – this is likely to cause your audience to lose interest. It is far better to have a short but spectacular display than one, which is drawn out and eventually just becomes boring.
A word of caution on rockets. These usually have a protective cover under which is a delay fuse which is usually a thin blue or green “string”, but you may also encounter one which is like a stiff black string. Whatever it is, straighten it out and light it at the tip for the maximum delay to give you time to step clear. If you light them close to the firework, or to the fuse covering, ignition will be almost instantaneous.
Health & Safety Executive ( HSE) printed Guide HS(G) 123 – Working together on firework displays
Health & Safety Executive (HSE) link Organising fireworks displays
This guide was originally written by Ian Craig one of the founders of the British Pyrotechnicians Association. Ian is also the founder and first Managing Director of Phoenix Fireworks. Ian has 38 years experience in professional fireworks. The guide has been kept up to date with the new regulations by Martin Coffin, current MD of Phoenix Fireworks with 28 years of firing fireworks and senior trainer for Stage I and II of the BPA firers safety certificate.
Phoenix Fireworks offer these comments in the spirit of keeping fireworks displays safe, however every site is different and every fireworks display operator has different levels of experience.
The site safety is the responsibility of the safety officer and chief pyrotechnician at the time of firing the fireworks. Phoenix Fireworks do not guarantee that these suggestions can keep everybody 100% safe and suggest organisers research current government guidelines.