July 4th Fireworks Safety

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The Fourth of July is coming up, and many proud Americans will be celebrating with fireworks. An unlucky (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 as a spectator at your hometown’s 4th of July event. Grab a blanket and let the pros handle it.

Fireworks injuries are a thing. In one recent year, firework accidents claimed eight lives and sent 12,000 people to the emergency room. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that, in the month around the July 4th holiday, 280 people a day end up in emergency rooms with firework injuries. Most (74%) are burns involving the fingers, hands, face, eyes, and head.  The majority of these (57%) occur in children and teens. And despite improvements in safety, injuries and property damage are rising. More than 18,000 fires are set each year by fireworks gone wrong, including many affecting buildings and vehicles.

But a lot of people are going to use them anyway. If you decide to personally set off fireworks this Independence Day, be sure to follow the advice of the National Safety Council (NSC):

  • Only use legal fireworks. That means you should know what the laws are for your area. Beware of fireworks wrapped in plain brown paper; these are usually meant for professional use and are dangerous for amateurs.
  • Choose an ignition area away from flammable materials, structures, and people. 35 feet away is recommended. Aerial fireworks should be watched from at least 150 feet away.
  • Never allow children of any age to play with or ignite fireworks, they’re the most likely to get injured. That means even sparklers, which account for 50% of fireworks injuries in children under 5 years of age. Sparklers reach a temperature of up to 2000 degrees, hot enough to melt many metals. Glow sticks or confetti poppers are safer options.
  • Any firework event should always be closely supervised by adults; even with adults, however, there should be a “designated igniter” that holds off on the alcohol and recreational drugs (if you must indulge) until after the fireworks are over. That adult and anyone else nearby should consider protective eyewear.
  • Only ignite one firework at a time. When lighting, stand away, never position your body directly over it. Back away immediately.
  • Avoid putting fireworks in cans or jars (“bottle rockets”) for “stability.” if these containers explode, pieces of metal and glass can act as shrapnel to cause injuries.
  • If you’ve got a dud, don’t try to relight it, let it sit for 5-10 minutes before you disarm it permanently by soaking with a hose or a bucket of water.

Some of their advice is just common sense (at least, for most of us): Never light fireworks indoors, Never point or throw fireworks at others. , and Never hold lit fireworks in your hands.

What about your pets? Curiosity killed the cat, and so can fireworks. Most cats and dogs probably won’t go anywhere near them, but a curious sniff might get them into big trouble. They’d be happier and, certainly, safer inside the house. Some suggest keeping the television on to muffle the sound of anxiety-producing explosions.

If you or a member of your family is injured, Call 911 or go directly to the emergency room for moderate to severe cases. For mild burns, run cool water on the injury for 10 minutes, apply burn gel, and cover with a clean non-stick dressing to protect the area. Monitor closely and seek professional help if necessary.

Following these safety tips and using some plain old common sense will help keep your family safe and give you the best chance of a healthy 4th of July. Happy Independence Day!

Joe Alton MD

Dr. Alton

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