PyrotechnicMagazine_#3_IllegalFireworks_8The Dutch really love fireworks—insanely love fireworks. Maybe that’s an understatement, but it is definitely factual nonetheless, and rarely stated as a simple sentence out loud. It is to the extent they love fireworks that makes them come across as “pyroholics,” however. Yearly, we spend somewhere in the ballpark of 67 million Euro’s on legal fireworks. It’s hard to calculate the exact amounts the Dutch spend on fireworks, though, because it is also estimated that the Dutch spend three times that amount on illegal fireworks!

Maybe calling them “illegal fireworks” is a little bit harsh, so let me divide the “illegals” into several different categories.

I think it’s fair to say that the largest share of illegal fireworks are probably consumer fireworks (CE branded) predominantly sold in Belgium and Germany. Therefore, from a European Community standpoint, their illegality immediately comes into question. You see, they are only deemed “illegal” because Dutch fireworks importers receive no revenue from their sales. The Dutch sell the very same products, but they are classified as illegal based on whose selling them.

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Another, category—and of a much more serious a concern—is the professional fireworks category. For example, powerful Vuurwerk Flowerbeds (which are similar to large multi shot cakes in America, only much, much bigger, containing a wide diversity of large shells) are sold all throughout the Dutch black market. This type of firework is incredibly powerful as it compares to its consumer counterpart, and it requires pyrotechnic training. Some flowerbeds even require certification. Unauthorized/untrained individuals using this type of firework could easily hurt themselves or others and pose a genuine threat to surrounding property.

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A third fireworks category, and of equal concern to anyone who has ever been around them, are large, extremely powerful firecrackers. These types of explosives (the kind that have been banned in the United States for many years), and earmarked for professionals, are unfortunately being sold haphazardly throughout Italy, Poland and the Czech Republic. The specifications of these firecrackers/explosives have increased past the point of sanity as of late. Ten years ago the strongest firecracker you could buy contained around 15 grams of flash powder by weight. Now, in 2014, you can buy firecrackers on the black market that contain up to 100 grams of flash powder! This explosive potential poses a very real hazard to whoever lights the fuse, or whoever stores them for future sale

Personally, I think loud firecrackers are the main reason so many people voice their overt dislike of fireworks in general. Loud explosive “bangers” of this sort, may be the underlying reason there are so many anti-firework lobbyists working toward banning fireworks all together. This all or nothing approach is of grave concern to fireworks enthusiasts all throughout Europe. And it is more than just traditions at stake, personal freedom is also threatened by such pervasive laws.

Regardless, organized appeals from voters who have called for restrictions or a ban on fireworks have caused government officials to change the current rules. Because of this, from now on, the amount of time allowed to set off fireworks in the Netherlands has been cut effectively in half to just 8 hours. Of course, anyone with any brains realizes that this will have absolutely no effect on the loud firecracker problem, nor will it reduce the vandalism that occurs using these explosive devices. Since powerful firecrackers and vandalism are already against the law, I don’t really understand how time limitations solve either of these problems. Do they think that the people involved in breaking these laws will simply stop what they’re doing because they have run out of time?

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Under the new rules, fireworks may only be set off between 6:00PM New Year’s Eve and 2:00 AM New Year’s Day. Apart from the fact that this restriction doesn’t really fix anything, it actually poses some additional problems that were unforeseen. For example, now children setting off fireworks for the very first time have to learn how to do so in the dark. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal to many people, but I always spent time during the morning of New Year’s Eve reviewing safety precautions with regard to igniting different types of fireworks. I did this in the daylight, and I can assure you that my children—ranging in age from 7 to 14 years old—safely understand how to light a fuse, position a fountain and take stock of their surroundings so people or property won’t be hurt. Granted, this is basic information for adults, but new for children. I worry that too many adults will be consumed with other activities on New Year’s Eve and neglect the instructive supervision. Not to mention, setting off more fireworks in less time could lead to an increase in fireworks accidents.

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In conclusion, I’d like to stress to all of you who are reading this article that the amendment decreasing the legal timespan for shooting off fireworks should be taken as a warning. If there are problems regarding New Year’s Eve fireworks, I think we should fix them without resorting to heavy-handed regulation. The truth is (as with so many other things in this world) that only a very small group of individuals cause the majority of the problems for all of us. Restricting the entire community because of the behavior of a few is hardly fair or tenable. Besides, further restrictions or even a total ban on consumer fireworks will not solve the overall problems. I think the solutions are definitely out there, but only a cooperative effort between businesses, government and a variety of stakeholders can solve the problems effectively. To start, our government should probably heighten its diplomacy with the countries producing the problematic (and dangerous) firecrackers. In addition, I think it is important for fireworks enthusiasts to speak out and offer their own solutions. Honest, open discourse will help everyone. The way to protect our safety and sanctity is not through restriction and regulation, however. Paternal laws, even with the best intentions, are rarely effective in the long run.