It’s the 4th of July, and many proud Americans will be celebrating with fireworks. An unlucky (or careless?) few will wind up running afoul of their own pyrotechnics; just ask my old buddy “Three-Fingered Fred.” He’ll tell you.
Let’s face it, the safest way to enjoy fireworks is to be a spectator at your home town’s 4th of July event. Statistics show that from June 20th to July 20th of 2014, fireworks sent an average of 230 people to the hospital every day. 9 deaths were recorded, of which 2 were just innocent bystanders. Throughout 2014, there were more than 10,000 fireworks-associated injuries treated in U.S. emergency rooms.
Despite improvements in fireworks safety, injuries from accidents are rising. There were 349 injuries in Illinois alone in 2017, a 226% rise since 2008. None of these statistics take into account damage caused by pyrotechnics outside or in structures, totaling millions of dollars’ worth of damage.
Most (74%) fireworks-related injuries involve the fingers, hands, face (including the eyes), and head. Firecrackers were the most likely to be involved in mishaps. The majority of injuries were burns of varying degrees.
Many fireworks injuries (57%) are seen in children or teens, which should tell you that unsupervised use of fireworks by kids is a very bad idea. I remember one 4th of July on the beach watching fireworks when a bottle rocket lit by an 8 year-old wound up missing my head by just a few inches.
FIREWORKS SAFETY TIPS
If you must have fireworks for personal use, consider these safety tips, paraphrased from the website of the National Council for Fireworks Safety, peppered with some of my own advice:
- Only buy legal fireworks for personal use. Avoid fireworks wrapped in brown paper; these are usually meant for professional displays and are dangerous to the novice. As the old saying goes, “when all else fails, read the instructions.”
- Don’t be a mad bomber and make your own fireworks. Use the stuff made by the pros.
- Never allow children to play with or ignite fireworks, even sparklers. Sparklers reach a temperature of up to 2000 degrees, as hot as a blow torch! A fireworks event should always be closely supervised by adults.
- Adults: Have a designated “igniter” that holds off on the alcohol until after the fireworks.
- Wear safety glasses.
- Never place your body directly over a firework when lighting it.
- Never re-light or pick up fireworks that are “duds” or have not ignited fully.
- Never point fireworks at another person (no Roman Candle duels!).
- Always have a bucket of water or a garden hose nearby in case of fire or burns.
- Don’t put fireworks in metal cans or glass jars as a “base”; if these containers explode, they will act like shrapnel!
- Light fireworks one at a time.
- Back off quickly after lighting a firework.
- Douse spent fireworks with water.
- Be aware of the laws in your town regarding fireworks, and obey them to the letter or risk a visit from your friendly neighborhood law enforcement officer. Many municipalities forbid the igniting of fireworks after 11 pm.
What about your pets? Curiosity killed the cat, and so can fireworks. Most cats and dogs probably won’t go anywhere near them, of course, but an investigatory sniff might get them into big trouble. They might be happier and safer inside the house.
If you or a member of your family is injured, it will probably be a burn injury. Call 911 or go directly to the emergency room after running cool water on the injury. Cover the injury with a clean non-stick dressing to protect the area in the meantime.
Following these safety tips will help keep your family safe and give you the best chance of a healthy 4th of July. Happy Independence Day!
Joe Alton MD
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