How local authorities can organise fireworks displays

Avril Di Palma, business development manager at CarnDu Ltd and representative of the British Pyrotechnists Association explains everything you need to know about organising a firework display.

Firework displays continue to be events that the public hugely enjoy and support, often bringing whole communities together in celebration. It’s very important however to remember that we are dealing here with explosives and as such these events require careful planning, organising and co-ordination between many factions to ensure that safety is the priority. 

A safely run show will ensure enjoyment for all those involved. Local authorities play a crucial role in commissioning and overseeing these events to make certain they run smoothly. To begin with, it is important to note that this article is a brief guide only and readers should note the references to the following recommended guides produced by the Explosive Industry Group that provide much greater depth on this subject: Working Together on Firework Displays (The Blue Firework Guide) and Giving Your Own Firework Display (The Red Firework Guide).

At the very start of the planning process consideration should be given to choosing a capable contractor. Both the British Pyrotechnic Association (BPA) and the Explosives Industry Group (EIG) list members who are professional display organisers. 

The BPA for example also has an established training and accreditation structure recognised by City & Guilds for all their members’ firing staff. Their training covers everything required from a professional display company and is also recognised by the EIG.

Selecting a suitable site is the key

There are very many factors to site selection. As a minimum, consideration should be given to the following. What is the anticipated number of people attending the event? Is the site spacious enough to safely host both the spectators and provide an area for the fireworks?

The site will need to be mapped out to include the firing area, a potential fallout area (for the prevailing wind and also if the wind is not from that direction), a safety area between the firers and the spectators, and the spectator’s area itself.

What type of surfaces are there at the site? For example, if it is grass, does it require maintenance such as cutting or dampening down before the event? Look at the proximity of residential areas, roads, livestock and other animals, trees and anything else that is potentially vulnerable.

A professional contractor will assist you in deciding the suitability of the site and should provide you with a Risk Assessment, Method Statement, Operating Procedures and a schedule of the proposed fireworks.

There are also tools that display companies can use to determine if the site is suitable and CarnDu Ltd has developed the following modelling tools to assist firework companies with this. ShellCalc© is a trajectory and fallout modelling tool for firework displays.

It is particularly important in contingency planning and provides realistic modelling of both the trajectories of a variety of fireworks and their fallout/debris patterns depending upon firing angles, wind strength and direction. It also helps determine what is a safe distance and ensure the fallout area is large enough to accommodate the size and type of fireworks being set off. EnvCalc© is for determining the environmental impact of a display.

The calculator considers the chemical by-products of combustion and their environmental impact, as well as the extent of the combustion by-products released. There is also a comparison with other event aspects such as travel of the crowd, importation and transportation of the fireworks, use of drones etc. SoundCalc© is for determining sound levels at distances from ground or aerial fireworks.

Once the decision has been made to have the event, it is vital that everyone affected by the show is informed well in advance so they are able to raise concerns but also be advised of the control measures that will be employed to minimise the impact upon them.

On the day of the event, the selected firework company will monitor wind strengths and direction which may affect the type of fireworks that are eventually set off.

Risk assessments

The display organisers also have a responsibility to undertake a Risk Assessment that as a minimum will cover: hazard identification, including those people (and structures) at risk and to what extent; risk evaluation: and identification of appropriate control measures designed to reduce risks. A Risk Assessment should be site and product specific and consider the risks to operatives, spectators, buildings etc. Doing so will provide the organiser with a clear indication as to whether the site is a suitable one.

Environmental issues

Environmental issues play an important part of any firework display and, it has become increasingly important to be able to quantify the environmental impact of the show. (see above)

Issues of fireworks and noise

There has been a lot of press in recent years about the nuisance of fireworks, and the impact on both humans and animals. A silent display is a term that has been used in recent years, however, any firework that is propelled into the air or bursts in the air will produce some noise and suggestions that a completely so called “silent fireworks display” is possible are simply nonsense. 

Of course, it is possible to design and fire a display where noise is minimised, and in situations where even relatively low levels noise might be a problem for example where there are stables close by, there are many things that can be done to minimise any potential distress. 

These include discussions with owners; suitable choice of fireworks; making sure that those who might be affected are aware of the display, so they may take action to help themselves; and for situations where animals are concerned, it has proven to be helpful to mask the transition between the time before the display and the display itself (for example by playing music).

Conclusion

Using this information as a basic starting point together with the more detailed guidance available, Local Authorities looking to commission firework events can do so with confidence and in the knowledge they will be providing a spectacular event that is both environmentally sound and safe for those who attend. 

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