First Responders

How Did the Nation’s Fourth of July Fireworks Go? In These Places, Not So Well

July 7, 2021Joshua Skovlund
Ocean City Fourth of July fireworks

Ocean City residents take cover after a city fireworks display accidentally discharged earlier than planned July 4, 2021. Screenshot via YouTube.

The Fourth of July saw celebrations around the country, often with massive official fireworks displays for whole cities and towns, and other places with friends and neighbors shooting off their own.

Most went off without a hitch.

Some did not.

Here’s a collection of large-scale professional fireworks that went badly and a partial list of places where first responders were busy when people tried to set off their own.

Nashville, Tennessee

None went more wrong than in Nashville, which billed its downtown “Let Freedom Sing!” show as the largest fireworks in the nation this year. But after a police helicopter spotted a civilian near the fireworks, a miscommunication between police and fireworks officials meant the huge show was launched with eight police officers in the “blast zone.” 

Luckily, no one was injured. 


Officials claimed the show was going to be the biggest display in the country, with over 40,000 pounds of fireworks synchronized to music and 350,000 in attendance. The city fire marshal designated a blast zone around the Bridge Building that no one was allowed to enter during the pyrotechnics. 

Just before the 9:30 show was set to start, police got a call that someone was in the building. A police helicopter flew by and confirmed at least one person was inside. To be sure the building was empty, the city’s SWAT team was sent to clear it.

However, officials say, Fire Department officials then thought the building was vacant when a security guard left the building.

“Without going through command and without checking with MNPD to ensure officers were out of the building, the message was relayed to start the fireworks show,” the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department said in a press release. “Command was not advised the show had commenced.”

The eight SWAT officers took shelter inside the building. MNPD released photos that showed firework remnants, soot, and various effects on the SWAT vehicles that were outside.

Nashville Fourth of July fireworks accidents
Debris from fireworks that fell on a Nashville SWAT vehicle that was caught in the blast zone of the city’s fireworks show after officials inadvertently started the show while police were still on the scene. Nashville police.

Dover, New Hampshire

In Dover, New Hampshire, the city’s annual fireworks display was cut short Sunday after a 6-inch mortar shell launched improperly, exploding among the remaining fireworks on the ground, igniting the whole pile at once, city officials said

Three firefighters and two police officers dove for cover until the explosions subsided. They held on for approximately five minutes before turning around with firefighter equipment.

Gary Bannon, recreation director for Dover, told Coffee or Die Magazine he was thankful that nobody was injured.

“It’s amazing that no one was hurt — there was projectiles flying everywhere,” Bannon said. “Some of them were within 100 feet of the initial explosion.” 

Video was posted to Twitter of the Dover fireworks exploding all at once.

Ocean City, Maryland

In the beachside community on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the city’s entire July Fourth fireworks arsenal exploded inside a truck on the beach as workers were prepping for the show. Workers with the fireworks contractor suffered minor injuries but Ocean City Fire Department Chief Richie Bowers said in a Facebook post that the town’s safety protocols kept others from getting critically injured. 

“Prior to the fireworks being off loaded from the vehicle, Fire Marshals secure a safe zone around the fireworks and put other safety protocols in place,” Bowers said. “It is this very zone and safety protocols that kept anyone else from being injured.”

Unlike Nashville and Dover, the Ocean City fireworks went off in the middle of the day, when weekend crowds were strolling the nearby boardwalk.

Injuries With Private Fireworks

Elsewhere, first responders were busy around the country responding to private fireworks accidents.

NHL goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks, 24, died Sunday night in a fireworks explosion at a party in Novi, Michigan. Novi Police Lt. Jason Meier told The Washington Post. An autopsy conducted Monday by the Oakland County medical examiner determined that the cause of death was chest trauma from a mortar-style firework that struck him.

“It was unclear whether the mortar struck him directly or [the trauma occurred] as a result of the percussive explosion near him,” Meier said.

An Indiana man was killed after a firework mortar tube failed, causing the shell to detonate within the tube as he tried to light it. Emergency medical services attempted lifesaving interventions on 41-year-old Steven E. Sims of Hartford City, Indiana, but were unsuccessful.

Four people were injured in Toledo, Ohio, when a truck full of fireworks caught fire, setting off the full payload. Video captured the chaotic scene as bystanders fled.

The Chicago Fire Department posted to Twitter that it had treated a teen Sunday after a fireworks accident caused critical injuries. The Tweet has vague details but did mention that the teen will lose a hand due to the severity of his injuries. 

“Please leave fireworks to professional venues,” CFD tweeted.

Read Next: LAPD Bomb Squad Gets Early Jump on July Fourth

Joshua Skovlund
Joshua Skovlund

Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He has covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children. His creative outlets include Skovlund Photography and Concentrated Emotion.

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