Classifications of FireworksThe United States government categorizes fireworks into several different classifications. The two main ones are shown in the chart here. You may have heard some of these terms before, and this page is an attempt to make it all a little bit more clear.
(used in big shows)
(that you can buy)
|Old name:||Special Fireworks||Common Fireworks|
|Old explosives class:||Class B||Class C|
|United Nations shipping category:||UN0335||UN0336|
|New name in U.S.:||Display Fireworks||Consumer Fireworks|
|New explosives class in U.S.:||1.3G||1.4G|
(An exception to the table above involves a recent change to the classification of Display Fireworks. Aerial shells that are 8 inches or larger in diameter are now classified as 1.1G instead of 1.3G. That means different transportation and storage requirements for shells that are 8 inches and larger, compared to the requirements for shells smaller than 8 inches in diameter.)
So which term should you use? If you're talking about the fireworks you buy at stands and in stores, use either "consumer fireworks" or "1.4G." (Some people shorten this to just "1.4" in an effort to save a fraction of a second of their leisure time.) Personally, I prefer "consumer fireworks" because it is much more descriptive, but you will be correct using either term. Certainly for typing, "1.4G" is a lot faster to type, but you need to make sure whoever reads it knows what it means.
Whatever you do, don't say "1.4 gram," because the "G" has nothing to do with grams. The numbers and letters come from the U.S. Department of Transportation's "Hazardous Materials Table" which is a huge and complex set of regulations. The "1.3" and "1.4" are Hazard Divisions in the explosives Class 1, and the "G" is the Compatability Group, which ranges from A through L plus N and S. The "G" is not an abbreviation for any word. If you want more information about it than this, you will have to dive into the "UN Transport of Dangerous Goods - Model Regulations 14 Ed., on Class 1 Explosives." Some people mistakenly say, "1.4-gram fireworks" and that is incorrect. Say, "consumer fireworks" or "1.4G fireworks" and you will be correct.
You will probably still hear people say, "Class C fireworks," as it is still commonly used, but it is an obsolete term and I discourage you from using it.
If you're talking about the large professional fireworks used in public displays, call them "Display Fireworks" or "1.3G fireworks" and you will be correct. Some people shorten it to just "1.3" in an effort to save themselves the herculean task of speaking one additional syllable. If you hear people say, "B shells" or "B cakes," they are talking about these large fireworks, but resist the temptation join them in using those terms, since "Class B" is officially an obsolete term.
In the United States, buyers of 1.3G display fireworks must have a permit from the ATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) in order to buy these large fireworks. Anyone can apply to get the permit, but it is up to the ATFE to decide whether to grant the permit or not. If you don't have an ATFE permit, don't attempt to buy 1.3G fireworks such as large shells or large cakes. Even if you "know someone who is selling large shells," don't be tempted to buy them, because without the proper licenses and permits, you are asking for years of legal troubles if you get caught with them. You can see 1.3G fireworks for free all the time anyway (at theme parks, baseball games, concerts, 4th of July displays, etc.) so there's no point in trying to get and use those fireworks yourself. Consumer fireworks, though, is a whole different world. In general, buyers of 1.4G consumer fireworks in the United States do not need any permit to buy them, but some states do not allow any sales, or require a small fee, or place restrictions on which types of 1.4G fireworks can be sold, or the dates they can be sold, or the age limit of the buyer. Some counties, cities and townships also restrict the types and dates and have their own age limits.
What determines whether a particular firework is 1.3G or 1.4G? Keep in mind that the above terms apply within the United States only, and do not apply in other countries. What is legal to sell to the public in some countries may not be legal to sell to the public in the United States, and vice-versa. The exact specifications which divide 1.3G fireworks from 1.4G fireworks are found in these sections of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations: 49 CFR 173.56, 27 CFR 55, and 16 CFR 1507, if you want to spend the time digging around. You can dig here.
The actual specifications for 1.4G consumer fireworks are contained within a somewhat mysterious and little-seen document called APA Standard 87-1, which is maintained and published by the American Pyrotechnics Association. The federal laws simply reference that document, with regards to the actual limits on size, powder content and chemical restrictions. More information on those limits is at this page.
These specifications define the physical and pyrotechnic limits for consumer fireworks in the United States. For example, they stipulate that firecrackers can contain only 50 milligrams of pyrotechnic content, or they specify the size and spacing of tubes in multi-tube items, or set the minimum and maximum limits of the burn time of a firework's fuse, etc. Fireworks that exceed the spefications in these laws can't be sold in the U.S. as consumer fireworks, so they are considered display fireworks, for professional use only. Countries other than the U.S. have completely different standards of what can and can't be sold to the public.
In addition, some regulatory agencies (such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Department of Transportation and some of the state governments) impose additional restrictions and on consumer fireworks, For example, they may require tests of the rigidity of the stick on a bottle rocket, or the likelihood of a device tipping over while in use, etc. In California, fountains cannot spray higher than 10 feet; in some states, certain types of fireworks, such as rockets may be prohibited categorically. Standards and testing methods imposed by regulatory agencies are often called into question by the fireworks industry, and there have even been lawsuits over them. As a result, specifications and testing methods imposed by agencies and by state governments are more likely to change from time to time than statutory specifications in the U.S. federal law are.
"Safe and Sane" is a term used in some states of the U.S. to indicate a subset of Consumer Fireworks that can be sold in that state. For a more detailed explanation of "Safe and Sane", go to this page of my web site.
"Toy Trick Noisemakers" is yet another sub-category, possibly defined by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and by some states, to include such items as caps, party poppers and snappers. They are generally not considered "fireworks" and are sold almost everywhere in the U.S.
"Toy Smoke Devices" is another sub-classification by some states, in which items that produce smoke only are not considered "fireworks" and are thus legal to sell in some states that don't allow other "fireworks" to be sold.
Now that you're thoroughly confused by all of this classification nonsense, you're ready to go on to my home page and advance to the next level of confusion.
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