Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on July 6, 2021.

Deadly Weekend  

Hockey pro’s death and other holiday weekend incidents demonstrate the dangers of consumer fireworks


Matiss Kivlenieks became somewhat of a hero to his home country of Latvia in May, when the ice hockey goaltender saved all 38 shots in a shutout win against heavily favored Canada in a World Hockey Championship game. It was the first time Latvia has ever beaten Canada. After the surprising and stellar performance, sports analysts pondered what could be a bright future for the 24-year-old, who also played for the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets.

But that future was cut short in Michigan over the weekend when Kivlenieks died in what authorities described as a tragic fireworks accident. Initial police reports suggested the athlete died after falling and hitting his head as he exited a hot tub, but an autopsy has revealed the cause of death as chest trauma after he was struck by an errant firework, the Associated Press reported

The nine-shot firework being used was legal in Michigan and the person operating it was in compliance with state laws, police said, according to AP. When it started firing toward people, instead of straight into the air as it should have, Kivlenieks and others tried to flee. That's when he was struck in the chest. Others on scene rushed to help and called 911. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

While Kivlenieks’s death was the most high-profile fireworks incident to occur in the United States during the Fourth of July holiday weekend, it was far from the only one. 

Headlines from across the country reveal the carnage wrought by consumer fireworks use on Sunday. In Indiana, a man died after fireworks shrapnel tore into his abdomen. In Illinois, a man lost an eye after he bent over to inspect fireworks that didn’t seem to go off in time. In New York, a teen boy was hospitalized after fireworks exploded in his face. A few days before the holiday, 17 people were injured after a Los Angeles man’s store of 32,000 pounds of fireworks exploded. The man had bought them in Nevada and planned to resell them in California, NBC Los Angeles reported.  

All of these incidents demonstrate why NFPA has for decades advocated against the use of consumer fireworks. Instead, the organization has said, leave fireworks to professionals. 

“NFPA has a long-standing position against the use of consumer fireworks because they are so inherently dangerous,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy at NFPA. “Every year we see tragic cases that injure those using them and innocent bystanders, reinforcing that there is simply no safe way to use them and they should be avoided.” 

More people being injured, dying by fireworks  

On social media, the reaction to the news that Kivlenieks had died in a consumer fireworks accident was split. 

Many pointed out, as Carli did, the recurrence of similar incidents every year. “When will people learn?” one person wrote on Twitter. “If you want to see fireworks, watch Disney feed on YouTube or New York City on TV. Either [is] better than what these people that get injured every year can put on.” Another commented, “This is why private fireworks should be illegal everywhere.” 

Others, meanwhile, claimed that consumer fireworks aren’t inherently dangerous, and they shouldn’t be banned. Some even expressed a belief that using consumer fireworks is somehow an American right. 

Statistics, however, tell a different story, with consumer fireworks sending tens of thousands of Americans to emergency rooms every year. And this past weekend’s events seem to be part of a larger trend that’s seeing more and more people get injured, and even dying, using consumer fireworks than in the past several years.   

A report released by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in June shows that for 2020, the estimated number of people injured by consumer fireworks was up 56 percent over the 2019 numbers, from 10,000 to 15,600. It was up more than 70 percent from the year before that. The CPSC also reported 18 consumer fireworks–related deaths in 2020, more than double the annual average of 8.5 from 2005 to 2020.

One possible explanation for these statistics is the COVID-19 pandemic. “It is possible that the cessation of public firework displays during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 spurred consumers to try out displays on their own,” the report reads. 

“These numbers are atrocious,” Carli said, while also pointing to a number of impacts consumer fireworks use can have outside of injuring and killing people. “Fireworks tax first responders and medical professionals, create wildfire risk in high-drought areas, and cause millions in property damage, all of which can be avoided.” 

Sunday was the 30-year anniversary of the death of 3-year-old Michael Shannon, who was fatally struck by consumer fireworks. Watch an NFPA video from 2007 on that incident. 

Currently, Massachusetts is the only state in the country that bans the purchase and use of all types of consumer fireworks, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. Some states, like Ohio, have allowed for people to purchase fireworks but not set them off. Legislators in the state approved a bill in June that would change that, though, making it legal for Ohio residents to set off consumer fireworks on certain dates. Meghan Housewright, director of the NFPA Fire & Life Policy Institute, called the move by the Ohio lawmakers to pave the way for consumer fireworks use “absurd.” 

Even when states pass such legislation, Housewright said communities should strive to impose their own local bans. “Especially under the extremely dry conditions in western US right now, local officials should be explicitly empowered to ban the use of consumer fireworks even if they are legal on a statewide level,” she said. 

Despite it still being illegal to set off consumer fireworks in Ohio, that clearly didn’t stop people from doing it Sunday, and the state wasn’t spared from the long list of post-holiday fireworks death and injury headlines. Several people were injured in Toledo when fireworks exploded in the back of a U-Haul truck. That incident also sparked a small brush fire.

Learn more about fireworks safety at

ANGELO VERZONI is an associate editor for NFPA Journal. Follow him on Twitter @angelo_verzoni. Top photograph: Getty Images