Fireworks safety plea ahead of Eid Al Fitr celebrations in UAE

Often sold illegally, fireworks tend to end up in the hands of children which puts them at risk.

People watch a fireworks display on Abu Dhabi Corniche. Officials have warned people against buying illegal fireworks and advised families to attend organised displays in the run up to Eid Al-Fitr. Ravindranath K / The National
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DUBAI // Redha Salman knows well how playing with fireworks can end in tragedy. He was only a boy when a friend died after being hit by a flare.
"I want to tell parents to be careful, because I am speaking from my personal experience. I lost a childhood friend from a firework accident," said the director of the Public Health and Safety Department at Dubai Municipality.
"We were only 12 or 13 and there were some children playing with flares. One of the flares shot towards my friend and hit him in the eye and then exploded. I was standing right there, I saw this myself.
"He was not playing with fireworks himself, he was just an innocent bystander and it cost him his life."
In the three years Dr Khalid Al Awadi has worked at Al Mafraq hospital's burns unit he hasn't had to treat a child directly injured by fireworks.
"We did get children with burns and most cases they said it was from the barbecue. But some of them could have been from fireworks, we couldn't be sure," said Dr Al Awadi.
Possessing fireworks without a licence is illegal. This applies to traders and the public. The law does not directly address fireworks, but possession of explosives is punishable by up to three months jail or a maximum fine of Dh3,000.
Despite their sale being strictly regulated by the authorities, fireworks still end up in the hands of youngsters, especially around the time of the Eid Al Fitr celebrations.
"This is a security issue, not a commercial issue. We don't know how they are selling fireworks," said Mr Salman. "What we know is that it is being sold directly to the children, they don't sell them to adults."
It is a seasonal problem, he said. "Fireworks are used during public holidays and times of celebration. There is no link between fireworks and Islamic or Emirati culture.
"People used to tolerate the use of fireworks in the past because residential areas had wide open spaces and nobody was affected or harmed by them. But now due to the changes in urbanisation it has become a much bigger danger.
"Neighbourhoods are much more crowded now. You have wiring and flammable objects lying around so the risks are much higher to the community."
He said that the municipality has no authority to investigate individuals who sell illegal fireworks, only businesses.
"The police can investigate individuals, so if you are concerned about fireworks in your neighbourhood you should contact the police department. If you find that it is being sold in a shop, then contact the municipality," said Mr Salman.
A shop caught selling fireworks can face a fine of up to Dh500,000 and suspension of its trade licence.
"The punishment depends on the amount and the type of contraband seized. Fireworks are only allowed to be used for organised events and by licensed companies, all other sale of fireworks is banned in the UAE," he said.
Despite there being no injuries from fireworks in the UAE, Dr Al Awadhi remembers an incident when he was working in Germany that showed how dangerous they can be.
"It was Christmas and this 16-year-old boy was playing with fire crackers when one exploded in his hands and blew off two of his fingers," he said.
"It took me eight hours to replant the fingers and he had to spend long hours in physiotherapy to regain 80 per cent of their use."
Prevention of accidents comes from parents, said Mr Salman. "Parents must be aware of what their children are buying and who they are associating with," he said.