Happy July 4! Here’s a Brief History of D.C. Fireworks Accidents
Ever year leading up to July 4, Washingtonians are bombarded with reminders to "be safe"—safe with alcohol, safe with our grills, and, most frequently, safe with fireworks. Nationally, an average of 200 people a day are injured from fireworks in the month surrounding July 4, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. D.C. residents get a lot of bang for their buck, with the fireworks display on the National Mall and various other area displays in the region. In addition, some fireworks are legal—though firecrackers that explode, like cherry bombs or roman candles, are outlawed in the District.
Still, any drive around the District on July 4 reveals that plenty of locals spend their evening exploding things in the air. So before you light some fireworks in your alley, take some notes from local history.
July 4, 1845: In President James Polk’s day, the national fireworks display occurred next to the White House, not on the National Mall. During the display, several large rockets purportedly fired into the crowd, striking carpenter James Knowles through the heart and maiming about a dozen people. “There were, probably, seven or eight hundred people congregated on the hundred yards square over which these missiles of death were scattered,” the National Intelligencer reported.
July 2, 2004: Hot 99.5's Teapot Tim wrapped himself in foam padding with fireworks on top at the home of his station manager in North Potomac, Md. The stunt backfired, giving one person minor burns, according to firehouse.com. As if that wasn’t bad enough, fireworks are illegal in Montgomery County, so officials charged everyone involved with possession and discharge of fireworks.
July 4, 2007: Eleven people were injured in Vienna when a “grand finale” box of fireworks malfunctioned, causing a shell to fire into a crowd of spectators and explode. Kathryn Hollis was severely injured by the blast, along with her son Max, and she was awarded $4.75 million after suing the fireworks company, Schaefer Pyrotechnics. “It’s nice to have some validation,” Hollis told the Post after the verdict. On the same day, a Tennessee man working the fireworks show at the National Mall lost a hand when a mortar shell accidentally exploded when he reached to pick it up. Waking up in the hospital days later, Bob Crapsey reportedly shrugged his shoulders when told his hand had to be amputated. Though he spent three months in the hospital with 24 surgeries, he told Tennessee’s wate.com he was glad it happened to him and not any of the 20-year-old boys working the show that night.
June 24, 2013: Just over a week ago, fireworks caused an explosion in an alley near 3rd and L street NE. Police recovered a backpack filled with more fireworks near the scene, and they arrested a male suspect. No one was injured.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery