A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keven Moore: Are indoor — cold — sparkler machines safe? Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions

Cool pyrotechnics, also known as cold sparklers or cold fountain fireworks, have become increasingly popular in recent years as a safer alternative to traditional pyrotechnics. Cold fountain fireworks, also known as cold sparklers or indoor fireworks, have gained popularity in recent years as a safe and mesmerizing alternative to traditional pyrotechnics. These dazzling displays of light and sparkles are often used at weddings, parties, and other special events to create an enchanting atmosphere.

However, it is essential to recognize that even cool pyrotechnics carry certain risks.

This false sense of safety went up in flames on September 27, 2023 a fire occurred during a wedding celebration in a city in northern Iraq, killing more than 100 people and injuring more than 150 others.

A report issued by Iraq’s Interior Ministry four days after the fire highlights four pyrotechnic devices in the center of the wedding hall as responsible for the start of the fire. Sparks reached four meters in height, according to the report.

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@higusa.com

According to an ABCNews report dated Oct 5, 2023, in security footage from less than a minute before the fire began, a videographer can be seen stepping through the sparks, but experts say the devices may not be without their risks.

Fire safety experts have determined from the extensive video evidence of this unfortunate fire that these four pyrotechnic devices were the “central source of ignition” and, in turn, caused the fire to spread to the central ceiling fixture of the hall, which was made of a “highly flammable” material.

Fire safety experts with knowledge of cold pyrotechnics say that they can still be hazardous if safe distances are not observed and the sparks come into contact with flammable material.

What is contradicting to these experts opinions that many users and observers, claim that these devices were “cold” pyrotechnics that did not emit live flames. Then there are several TikTok and Youtube showing users placing their hands into the showers of sparks emitted by the devices in an effort to demonstrate their perceived lack of risk.

But this is obviously further from the truth. Fire investigators identify overhead gold leafy decorations to be what first caught on fire. The leafy design allowed sufficient oxygen around the individual leaves to support combustion and depending on their chemical make-up supports rapid flame spread throughout the venue.

Then the flaming decorations acted as a catalyst, spreading to the white fabric drapes acting as light diffusers and gold hanging decorations, before falling on vinyl-covered tables and chairs and in turn igniting them. Many attending the wedding didn’t have a chance to escape and were caught in a death trap; due to blinding smoke and confusion that ensued and the inadequate number of exits at the venue.

Given the fact that fireworks are too dangerous for most situations, cold sparks were developed — a revolutionary special effect that looks just like a classic pyrotechnic display, without the same dangers associated with common fireworks. These cool pyrotechnics have only been introduced on the market just a few years now and are being used to spice up wedding receptions, graduations, parties, and theatres…etc.; and many providers are advertising them as non-flammable and safe.

According to the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) report these machines are sold under numerous brand names and produced domestically and by numerous foreign manufacturers. Many of these manufacturers and distributors are marketing and purporting that these devices are un-regulated and do not require permits or licenses for their use. The individual requirements for permits and licensing vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

However, in December 2018, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) issued a Temporary Interim Amendment (TIA) to address this emergent technology and the introduction of this type of device into the marketplace. This was done in response to a lack of clear guidelines or standards for use or risk mitigation, and to address several instances of machines catching on fire, creating potentially injurious fall-out, and setting off fire alarms. The general consensus among stakeholders was that these devices, while arguably somewhat safer than conventional pyrotechnics, do still pose a hazard to life safety under certain circumstances and the potential at a minimum of false alarms.

Today a handful of states are starting to catch up to these hazards and are starting to pass regulations to limit the exposure. According to the National Fire Protection Association, these machines have been officially classified as pyrotechnic devices since December 2021, and their use is regulated by the same licensing and permit requirements as other pyrotechnic devices.

There are no current, industry wide performance guidelines, manufacturing standards, or engineering and testing verifications by third parties for these machines and the expendable fuels that create the effects as might be required by a broadly recognized authority or agency. Although some manufacturers have obtained UL, CE, CSA, or other approvals from a widely recognized testing lab, these approvals only address the electrical integrity or the minimum standards for trade commodities within a jurisdiction.

Cool pyrotechnics (Wikimedia Commons_

These approvals do not in any way indicate a certification for safe use of the effect in the public environment. Safe use, as with all special effects devices, should be determined by appropriate analyses of all the risk and environmental factors in each application and approved by all involved parties, including the authority having jurisdiction.

The APA Proximate Pyrotechnics Committee strongly supports the NFPA’s 2021 revision of NFPA 1126 regarding these devices and encourages all jurisdictions to adopt the most current edition of these standards and recommends that all spark producing-devices be regulated and permitted as pyrotechnic devices with all applicable local regulations pertaining to licensure and use. Additionally, the APA strongly encourages manufacturers, distributors, and users to develop training programs for compliant use and emphasizes the necessity to follow maintenance protocols and perform risk mitigation analyses.

As a consumer planning an event and considering using cool pyrotechnics to spice up your event I would suggest the following to ensure everybody’s safety:

• Choose a suitable and well-ventilated location: When planning to use cold fountain fireworks, it is crucial to select an appropriate indoor space. Ensure that the area is well-ventilated and free from flammable materials. Avoid using them near curtains, paper decorations, or any other combustible objects that could easily catch fire.

• Read and follow instructions: Before using cold fountain fireworks, carefully read the manufacturer’s instructions and safety guidelines.

• Use a stable and heat-resistant surface: Place the cold fountain fireworks on a stable, non-flammable surface.

• Keep a safe distance: It is important to maintain a safe distance from the cold fountain fireworks during their operation. The recommended distance may vary depending on the specific product, so always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions.

• Do not touch or move the device during operation: Once the cold fountain fireworks are activated, it is crucial not to touch or move them until they have fully extinguished.

• Keep children and pets away: As with any fireworks or pyrotechnic devices, it is essential to keep children and pets at a safe distance.

• Have a fire extinguisher nearby: Keep a fire extinguisher nearby in case of any accidental fire.

• Dispose of used devices properly: Allow the device to cool down completely before placing it in a designated, non-flammable container with other flammable trash.

In conclusion, cold fountain fireworks provide a captivating and safe alternative to traditional pyrotechnics. By following these safety tips, you can enjoy a worry-free experience while adding a touch of magic to your special events. Remember to always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and prioritize the safety of yourself, your guests, and the surrounding environment.

Be Safe My Friends

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