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Training... Improving Safety with Adequate Training!

Updated: Nov 16, 2019

One of the biggest issues in dealing with fireworks is the many regulations, requirements, changing regulatory environment, compliance as well as training for staff. It is a full time job just keeping up with regulations and law changes. In addition to monitoring for regulatory changes, ongoing and a complete training plan is critical to ensure the safe operation of your pyrotechnic operators, drivers, management and team in general. In this post we will cover some of the most common areas we feel should be included in your training program. This ensure safe and compliant operations and reduces your liability in providing public displays.

Let's talk fire service

One of the biggest assets in the display operators arsenal is creating and maintaining relationships with the local fire service where your displays take place. In many cases, the local AHJ's are easy to deal with as long as you are following the requirements of NFPA1123 and ensuring your people are following proper procedures and looking out for each other through safe practices.

Commercial displays are a different animal than backyard displays. There are many considerations to include safety, rules of engagement, and in general just keeping everyone as safe as possible. In fact, due to the nature of using explosives to provide entertainment, we must ensure proper handling, storage, transportation and compliance with regulations. With proper planning, we can ensure that attendees and staff at public displays are safe and the if something were to happen that we have prepared properly to ensure we can respond accordingly. In this article I will talk about the rules and hopefully get you thinking about the proper response should something go wrong during a display.

In order to continually improve operational security, we have to ensure that we are creating the proper policies and then following them to keep everyone safe and to set realistic expectations. One of the things I have noticed with my fireworks crews is that we are starting to now operate as a well oil machine. Each member including shooters, spotters, safety officers and the lead shooter all have specific roles during displays and if everyone stays in their lanes, we work efficiently but most importantly safely. Below I outline what each persons role is and why it's important for us all to look out for everyone's safety during events. It should be noted that ANY of the individuals named below can halt a display at anytime if they observe any unsafe operations or if safety considerations warrant halting the display.

Shooters: These are the individuals that are hand firing or manning the electronic console that actually set off the fireworks devices.

Spotters: These individuals observe the display and look for shells that do not function properly and note if anything out of the ordinary happens. We also video tape all of our displays to ensure we can review them after the fact to look for anomalies that may impact safety.

Safety Officers: Safety officers are in charge of the overall safety training for an organization. They setup policies and rules for how events are carried out, how product is transported and ensure that new and emerging safety methods are employed if they will improve the overall safety of the company.

Lead Shooter: The lead shooter at an event is the one responsible for ensuring that fire officials and EMS can enter the shoot site safely should the need arise. They are responsible for the setup, discharge and all aspects of the display. In most states they must have had many hours of training in the storage, transportation, discharge and handling of explosive materials prior to being able to test and be certified to discharge large public displays.

AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction): Is typically a representative from the fire service that is responsible for any emergency response required during an event. The AHJ typically also reviews the site plan and discharge to ensure that the lead shooter is operating as required under NFPA1123.

Lack of Knowledge

There is one typical issue that I have observed from some AHJ's over the last few years. Most people that are in charge of inspections and to provide security and fire protection at public displays have little to no knowledge of what they are responsible for. In NFPA1123, it is clearly spelled out what the AHJ, shooters and others are responsible to carry out. In some cases we have observed the inspectors not knowing what to inspect prior to the display. The most important things to keep in mind is that certain distances are required to ensure safety of attendees and that it is better to have more distance than the bare minimums. Things can happen such as changes in wind, storms and other naturally or man made occurring challenges that can be mitigated easily if they are planned for in advance and through proper planning.

Many AHJ's provide the permit on site and only after they have checked or inspected the setup to ensure conformity with the regulations. The most important questions an AHJ should ask themselves are some of the following:

  • Is the lead shooter knowledgeable as to the proper discharge rules?

  • Is there adequate distance not only for current conditions but other conditions that could be present during the display (wind, rain, emergencies, etc.)

  • Is the site secure? And most importantly who is authorized to be on the shoot site?

  • Is the equipment setup properly and are all persons inside the fallout zone adequately protected with proper clothing, ear, eye and fire protection?

  • Are all water cans in locations where they can be easily access should they be needed?

  • Is the product stored onsite at a safe distance from the public?

  • What does the security begin? And when can the site be opened to the public after the display?

These are some of the most common questions but not an all inclusive list. Each shoot site is different and each AHJ is different in how they address these issues. Some AHJ's never even ask the questions needed to know whether or not the site is sufficiently protected and the public as well.