Are fireworks an approved Scouting activity?

Thinking of ringing in the New Year or celebrating the Fourth of July by setting off some fireworks with your Boy Scout troop or Venturing crew?

Think again.

Unless you and your Scouts are watching a show conducted by a “certified or licensed fireworks control expert,” these dangerous explosives have no place in Scouting.

Click here to read the relevant section in the Guide to Safe Scouting. Here’s the important part:

Fireworks secured, used, or displayed in conjunction with program and activities is unauthorized except where the fireworks display is conducted under the auspices of a certified or licensed fireworks control expert.

In other words:

  • Watching fireworks set off by pros at the 2013 National Scout Jamboree? Awesome.
  • Watching fireworks set off by the guys in the Rattlesnake Patrol at your troop’s winter camp? Prohibited.

Easy enough. By the way, it’s also against policy to sell fireworks as part of a money-earning operation. Stick to popcorn, wreaths, and other items that don’t have the potential to singe your eyebrows.

And while we’re on the subject of dangerous explosives, don’t forget that units are not permitted to use cannons or other large-bore artillery devices. So leave the howitzer at home.

BSA File Photo, 2010 jamboree

22 thoughts on “Are fireworks an approved Scouting activity?

  1. A little known risk of attending a public fireworks display [such as those conducted at Jamborees and at other public venues during the Independence day or other celebrations], as well as setting off [illegal] explosive fireworks in a private setting is permanent and irreversible sensorineural hearing loss. A variety of audiologists and otolaryngologists [physicians specializing in ear, nose, and throat] have cited many cases of permanent and irreversible high frequency hearing loss with just one exposure to an aerial explosive concussion shell [the fireworks that make the very loud “bang” or sonic boom type sounds] which can produce between 120 and more than 180 decibels of sound pressure as far away as 500 to 1000 feet from the viewer. The very sensitive hair cells located in the inner ear that transmit a range of sound frequencies between about 20 Hz [cycles per second] and 20,000 Hz via the nerves to the brain, can be traumatized and damaged by just one such explosion

    A similar effect occurs with firearms use when hearing protection is not used. More recent studies have also shown that exposure to high powered sound systems in vehicles or homes, or in public venues such as rock concerts can result in similar damage. One teenager was recently reported to have suffered a 70% permanent hearing loss from using a portable type personal music device with ear buds that he played routinely at very high sound levels sometimes exceeding 100 decibels. One in five youth who use such devices or other loud music systems, are believed to have already suffered some degree of permanent hearing loss!

    Hearing loss is insidious in that it starts gradually, particularly in the high frequency ranges which are seldom noticed but with time, lower frequency hearing loss in the range of human speech around 2000-4000 Hz results in being unable to clearly understand what others are saying and having to ask them to repeat, or misunderstanding what has been said causing inappropriate responses in a conversation. Turning up TV and radio or music just be able to hear and understand what is being said is often a late sign of fairly profound hearing loss. Such loss may only be mitigated by the use of electronic hearing aids.

    A condition known as tinnitus [hearing constant ringing, clicks, pops, rushing noises, etc.] that are experienced after exposure to very loud noises can become permanent and very disabling. Tinnitus is often indicative that permanent damage to hair cells of the inner ear has occurred as a result of exposure to loud sound pressure above 90 decibels.

    A scale of dangerous sound pressure levels is available at websites listed below to indicate what sound pressure levels are hazardous to hearing and the amount of time of exposure that can cause permanent damage.

    Workplace exposure is also a risk of high sound pressure levels are present from using of tools and machinery in a manufacturing process. OSHA mandates hearing protection and sound pressure mitigation for such areas where employees are subject to such exposure, but NO organization currently regulates maximum sound pressure levels caused by public fireworks displays that can be just as dangerous with only very brief exposure to high sound presure levels from concussion device explosions.

    Moreover,many children and teenagers mow lawns using powered mowers that generate more than 90 decibels and should routinely wear earplugs or earmuffs that lessen their exposure to such high sound pressure levels. The same goes for use of power tools such as saws, drills, sanders, etc. Many construction workers and hobbyists suffer hearing loss from frequent use of such devices.

    So the bottom line is ALWAYS wear approved ear plugs or ear muffs when exposed to moderate to high pressure sound levels, especially at public fireworks displays. Such devices can reduce sound pressure levels by about 15 to as much as 40 decibels, thereby possibly preventing permanent hearing damage and loss. Children are considerably more sensitive to hearing damage from high sound pressure levels and should always be protected from such exposure with ear plugs/muffs, and/or isolation from the source of the high sound levels, and this includes public fireworks displays in particular. Sound pressure levels decrease inversely as the square of the distance between the source and the individual so moving far away from such noise sources can greatly reduce the risk. Going indoors or inside a vehicle with windows rolled up may also help prevent damage. Even placing your hands tightly over your ears during loud music or explosions may greatly reduce the danger until you can get away from the source of the noise.

    Those who are exposed to such loud sound pressure levels and may be experiencing tinnitus or sudden hearing loss should seek IMMEDIATE medical attention from an emergency physician and/or otolaryngologist as certain medications can be administered to stabilze or even lessen the damage to the sensitive hair cells and possibly prevent greater levels of permanent hearing loss. Delaying medical care may be too late and little can be done if much time elapses after the exposure.

    Everyone should have a hearing evaluation by a qualified audiologist to determine a baseline for their hearing sensitivity and have periodic followup exams especially if they are exposed to high sound pressure levels in the workplace or in recreational settings. Prevention can result in more than a 40 percent or greater retention of hearing sensitivity that might otherwise be lost without the knowledge of the individual over a lifetime. While some hearing loss occurs naturally with age, a great deal of the loss is caused by chronic and/or high sound pressure levels which is nearly always preventable with proper safety devices and precautions.

    Hearing and sight are among the most vital senses we possess and are critical to so many life safety functions on a daily basis. Clearly they must be carefully protected and preserved throughout our natural lives through use of protective devices and by avoiding risks and awareness of dangerous exposure to hazardous environments.

    Proactive education of Scouts about sensorineural hearing loss prevention is particularly important and should also be a significant part of the Guide to Safe Scouting

    For those who wish to evaluate sound pressure levels of various environments, an inexpensive decibel meter can be purchased the measures sound pressure and records highest and lowest levels of various devices that create possible hazardous sound levels.

    See links for sensorineural hearing loss prevention:

    I urge everyone to spread the word on sensorineural hearing loss prevention especially among our Scouts and youth who need such guidance as soon as possible!



  2. Also, “Motorized go-carts and motorbike activities are unauthorized for Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs. All motorized speed events, including motorcycles, boats, drag racing, demolition derbies, and related events, are not authorized activities for any program level.

    Which makes the BSA-sponsored RACE CAR a really bad publicity event.

    • Our Council is running an ATV program this summer at camp. Does this mean that the safety course (includes driving) is not authorized? The counsellors went through a specific, thorough training program to present this course.

      • ATV is a new and upcoming program for older Boy scouts. One of our older scouts did it at Camp La-No-Che in Florida several weeks ago. Good program.

  3. Scouts can attend races. I have attended council organized scouting events at NHRA drag races, IndyCar, NASCAR, and F1 races. GSS says scouts cannot participate in races.

    From GSS:
    Participating in motorized speed events, including motorcycles, boats, drag racing, demolition
    derbies, and related events are not authorized activities for any program level.

    GSS also has a new allowance for go-carting: “Go-carting conducted at a commercial facility that provides equipment and supervision of cart operation is authorized upon submittal of a completed tour and activity plan.”

  4. What happened to my comment about the fact that scouts used to SELL fireoworks at roadside stands and from a small amount of research I did it appears some packs still do? Looks like you deleted my post because its not “PC”, what gives?

    • ALRUI, I felt the Adam Carolla comment you included in your previous post wasn’t appropriate for our audience. The comment about fireworks being sold at roadside stands didn’t bother me. Thanks!


      • Hi Bryan – Thanks for the explanation, though I stand behind his quote (also the name of his book) as its a pretty accurate description of where we stand in this country at this time unfortunately. Having been on this planet 51+ years now Im seeing changes (not for the better in most cases) one would have never imagined back when I was a scout:-)

  5. LOL – you know how many GSS rules are broken by Packs alone? Seriously a Wheelbarrow is off limits now to kids under 14, Pioneering projects over the shoulders (Towers and such) are practically impossible now. Scouting has become to “Leagalized” to promote boys to be boys

    • Its called “Political Correctness” which is straight of of the communist manifesto & is being implemented quite well. Also the scouts changing their stance on homosexuals would also fall under the same category.

    • So you’re up on the number of injuries and type of injuries that have happened? You feel you’re well qualified to know the hazards and legalities of the reasons BSA has implemented these rules? I doubt it. I think you’re posting off the cuff.

      I’d like to see my boys stay healthy with all of their limbs, eyes and ears, thank you very much. And I certainly don’t want to be the leader of an event where a boy who couldn’t handle a certain tool lost a limb, or eye or had a puncture wound.
      Thank goodness BSA is thinking about our boys’ safety and offering these guidelines.

      You are right, a lot of the rules are being broken by packs and there needs to be more education and training along those lines. Cub leaders come into scouting not knowing about things like the GtSS. And when they don’t follow it and a Scout gets hurt, there will be no backing or legal protection from the parent that sues that leader.

      Feel free to teach your kids all of the things Scouting doesn’t allow. That’s a parent’s prerogative. But it’s not the aim of scouting to make some kind of mythical, machismo American man. It’s here to offer safe opportunities to help them grow in character and confidence. I think there are plenty of those opportunities in the BSA program and they’re doing a fine job of it.

  6. I have not done this yet… theoretically… is you launch bottle rockets, you can launch the bottle rockets after dark and tie some glow sticks to them. This would create a fireworks display that would NOT violate policy. Or would it?

  7. Scouting is so much different than it used to be; 40 years ago. I’m not suggesting all of the changes have been negative, but the “face of the organization” has morphed from boys becoming young men, into boys becoming neurotics. Good grief. Maybe BSA should worry less about organizational liability and more about its Mission Statement.

    • It’s not just scouting… look at any local playground, especially at a school. No merry go rounds and most adults will tell kids “feet first” down the slide… I would love to see stats on how many fewer broken bones etc there are these days… I never wore a bicycle helmet as a kid, or often a seatbelt either but I want my kids to wear them… kids should be kids, but there is a fine line too. Kids should be kids, but they should also grow up to be adults with full use of their bodies and minds. As a parent, I can change my mind daily about what my kids might be allowed to do, but as an organization, BSA has to commit and put it in writing… I can’t blame them for erring on the side of safety. What a scout does at home with his family is up to the parents.

    • What are acceptable risks? Is the possibility of losing a hand, an eye or hearing justified for a boy to become a man? I disagree. For the most part, what’s prohibited now a days has probably saved hundreds/thousands of injuries that occurred back in the 50’s and 60’s.

      I think BSA needs to worry about both the mission statement and liability. Why does one have to separate them? I think the face of BSA, as you refer to it, both should and needs to change with the times lest we become some out-dated and non-relevant “almish” institution that no one wants to join.

      Fireworks are fun to watch. And if you’re comfortable handling them in a non-Scouting event, go for it. But if the mission statement is “boys come first”, then rules such as no fireworks are the thing I want to see. There are other ways to have fun.

  8. It takes diversity to create a well rounded group. So, differing opinions are a good thing usually. However, in scouting I prefer that the rules err on the side of caution so that our different opinions and ideas can be tempered with safety in mind. We all know that scouting needs to be safe for all the kids, but parents tend to disagree on what is safe enough. I’ve met a lot of other leaders and I have seen how different our ideas are on what’s safe and what’s not. I have also seen some “home fireworks displays” go wrong very quickly. That includes sparklers. If you think that a element of danger is appropriate for your child, then do those activities at home. Scouting is not the only place a boy can be taught to grow into a man. My husband and I do many things at home with our boys that are prohibited activities in scouting. However, I would not want to do anything at a scouting activity that could hurt one of the boys. I can’t think of all the things that could go wrong and that is where the GtSS comes in. They have heard all the stories of things that have gone wrong and made that guide to help us keep these boys safe. Why not appreciate their effort and the rules that they have made for us? You don’t have to follow the same rules when you are at home with your own children.

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