The Fourth of July—Independence Day—is uniquely an American celebration. Perhaps it’s the largest, maybe even the loudest, but July 4 more than a celebration of national independence. It’s a celebration of family and friendships—a time when we gather for a backyard barbeque, play a family game of baseball, and look forward to the sights and sounds of fireworks.

According to experts, the Fourth of July also is the most dangerous American holiday of the year. The National Safety Council estimates that there will be 385 deaths and 41,200 injuries this Fourth of July. These include fireworks, car crashes, boating accidents and heat illnesses. In 2013, fireworks alone accounted for eight deaths and 11,400 injuries.

Many activities on the Fourth can turn dangerous if proper safety precautions aren’t taken. Every year emergency rooms in hospitals double their staff in order to prepare for the income of injuries from Fourth of July activities. Here are some suggestions that planners at your church should remember when planning an event this Independence Day.

Firework Safety

If you decide to sell legal fireworks as a fundraiser this year, take steps to help protect your ministry from liability:

  • Learn what can go wrong. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issues a report each year that details fireworks-related injuries and deaths. You may find information in the report to be helpful when developing your safety and security plans.
  • Tell your insurance agent. Make sure you have the right coverage for this risk. Your agent also can provide important safety tips.
  • Know your local laws. State laws vary widely, so know what you can sell, where you can sell, and familiarize your volunteers with any age restrictions for buyers.
  • Do your homework on the fireworks vendor. Vetting the fireworks vendor is crucial. When interviewing a vendor, ask for references. Have a local attorney review the contract before you sign. The contract should indemnify your organization in the event of a lawsuit regarding manufacturing defects.
  • Develop worst-case scenario plans. The same basic steps used to develop safety plans for a severe weather event or a building fire can be used to help protect your ministry while hosting a fireworks fundraiser. Identify “What if?” scenarios, and develop plans for each assessment. See the article Create an Emergency Response Plan for tips on how to get started.
  • Call in the professionals. Look for EMTs and fire personnel within your ministry when recruiting volunteers. Tell your fire department when the fundraiser will take place, and ask for best-practice safety tips. If the event spans several days, ask the local police department to patrol the area overnight.
  • Safeguard your people. Post signs warning against open flames, including cigarettes and lighters. Inspect the area where volunteers will be working for safety hazards. Choose an open, well-traveled area for the display tables, and place buckets of water and fire extinguishers near the point of sale. Set minimum age requirements for those handling fireworks.
Car Safety

Car accidents account for the second most frequent cause of Fourth of July deaths and injuries. Millions of people will be on the road during, so drive defensively, and stay aware of other drivers around you. You awareness and willingness to follow a basic safety suggestions will go a long way to keeping you and your passengers safe to enjoy the holiday activities you have planned.

  • Buckle seat belts, observe speed limits.
  • Do not drink and drive.
  • Pay full attention to the road—don’t use cell phones.
  • If you see someone who may be driving under the influence stay away from the vehicle, pull over, and call 911. Provide the 911 operator with the location of the vehicle, and a description and the vehicle and the manner in which the vehicle is being driven.
Boating Safety

Canoeing, kayaking, river rafting, or heading out on a lake in a motorboat are popular 4th of July activities. Good planning and a high regard for safety will help make the experience everything your ministry intends it to be.

  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Obey all rules.
  • Make sure all equipment is secure and in good condition.
  • Make sure all participants wear a life jacket.
  • Bring emergency equipment.
Prevent Heat Illnesses

Most Fourth of July activities are outside, which means people are more prone to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Here are some ways to keep everyone healthy and cool.

  • Don’t schedule outdoor activities during the hottest part of the day.
  • Take frequent breaks in the shade or an air conditioned space to allow everyone to cool down and rehydrate.
  • Ask participants to dress appropriately for the environmen’loose fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing is best.
  • Provide water for participants, and encourage them to drink large amounts before, during, and after physical activity.
  • Always keep a first-aid kit with a thermometer and instant cold packs on hand, so you can check the temperature of participants, and cool them off if they are dangerously hot.

Regardless of the kind of Fourth of July celebration you’re planning, by focusing on safety, your church event can make this Independence Day a great time for the members of your church family and the friends and neighbors they invite to celebrate with you.

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