Sitting at his kitchen table, a window curtain obscuring the view outside, the man tinkered with a homemade firework in preparation of the July Fourth holiday.
With a bright flash and deafening crack, the room was flattened and the man —actually a plastic mannequin —was blown to pieces, his torso scorched and limbs blown yards away.
It was a grisly image, but an all too real one, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
And on Tuesday, the commission re-enacted that fatal error and several otherreal-life mistakes on the grounds of the Washington Monument to warn potential users about the risks of fireworks - the consequences of which are much more serious than singed plastic.
Last year, 9,600 people were treated in emergency rooms for firework-related injuries, an increase of 1,000 victims from 2010, according to reports from the safety commission. Four people were killed, including a man who decapitated himself while tinkering with an illegal firework.
“We want everyone to celebrate safely this year so we do not have to retell stories of lost … lives of loved ones,” said Inez Tenenbaum, chairwoman of the safety commission. “People just don’t remember to be safe around the holiday; they just take risks.”
As the half-dozen safety demonstrations illustrated, a tragedy can come from the most seemingly innocent actions.
With trained safety commission staffers using mannequins as victims, the audience watched as a sparkler lit a young girl’s dress on fire, a bottle rocket zoomed into a young boy’s eye, and a powerful firework blew half of a man’s face off while he peered into its canister.
Each of the examples - which caused many in the audience to gasp or jump in surprise - showed what happened in real life as reported to the safety commission.
“Fireworks are first and foremost explosives,” said Cynthia Quarterman, administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for the Department of Transportation.
To avoid horrors like the ones shown, officials advised that the average consumer light fireworks outdoors, never stand over an explosive, and never allow children to use fireworks - even sparklers.
“A sparkler can burn at 2,000 degrees,” Ms. Tenenbaum said. “That’s like a blowtorch.”
If consumer-gradefireworks can cause serious injuries, the types of fireworks trained technicians use for large fireworks shows or fireworks made by unlicensed manufacturers aremuch more dangerous, explained Arthur Herbert, assistant director of enforcement programs and services with the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
To illustrate his point, exploding watermelons were used to show the power of an illegal explosive such as the M-1000, and the nature of professional devices the typical consumer isn’t used to handling.
A yards-long professional-quality fusesent a flame through its length faster than the blink of an eye, and chunks of pink goo went flying through the air.
Mishandling or manufacturing mistakes might seem easy enough to avoid, but Ms. Tenenbaum explained that sometimes people become comfortable around the explosives, which can lead to missteps.
“People might not know its illegal, but they want a bigger bang,” Ms. Tenenbaum said. Those bigger bangs, however, “can take a hand off.”