There’s nothing quite as patriotic as gathering with friends and family to celebrate America’s independence. While food, games and fireworks make for a memorable July Fourth, an unfortunate number of children and adults end the evening in the hospital with firework-related injuries. As director of the Emergency Department at Williamson Medical Center, I see far too many firework-related injuries in the days before and after America’s birthday.
Who’s at risk?
According to a Consumer Product Safety Commission report of fireworks incidents in 2016, just over 11,000 consumers were injured and treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms and four died as a result of direct impact from fireworks. Sadly, children younger than five had the second highest rate of injury behind young adults ages 20 to 24, the majority of those male. Injuries associated with consumer fireworks were most often burns to the hands, face and head. Many of the injuries I see are a result of misuse or malfunction of fireworks, such as tying them together or making homemade fuses.
Firework Safety 101
While many consider DIY fireworks the quintessential American experience, I’ve seen countless patients under the misconception that a device sold for home use can’t possibly be dangerous. In reality, any object that catches fire or explodes has the potential to cause serious injury. If you’re going to light up the sky July Fourth, remember some basic safety guidelines from the CPSC:
Always have an adult supervise fireworks activities, even with seemingly innocent devices like sparklers. In reality, sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees, which is hot enough to melt some metals.
Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks.
Avoid buying fireworks packaged in brown paper, as this is often a sign that they were made for professional displays and could pose a danger to consumers.
Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully. I’ve seen countless injuries from patients who attempted to relight a dud, which typically ignites sooner than expected. If it doesn’t light the first time, give up and move on.
Never point or throw fireworks at another person, and make sure you have plenty of room away from others when lighting a fuse.
Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.
Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly.
Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding it to prevent a trash fire.
Firework laws vary by county and state. Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them.
If you do get a minor burn, apply cool tap water rather than ice, which can cause even more damage to the skin. Treat the area with antibiotic ointment and cover it to prevent infection. Tissue is especially prone to scarring on the face, hands and feet, so seek medical attention if you develop a blister or black skin on those areas.
Independence Day memories shouldn’t include the Emergency Department. Follow common sense advice and stay safe this July Fourth.
Richard Westgate, RN, MSN, has served as director of Williamson Medical Center’s Emergency Department since 2008.
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