July 4th is right around the corner. This time of year guarantees a few things – sales at your favorite stores, new Resident Physicians in the hospitals, and Emergency Departments full of people with injuries from fireworks. Sadly, this past weekend a 12 year old Nashville boy died from a firework-related accident when a firework hit him in the chest. Fireworks are a big deal.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, US Emergency Departments treated an estimated 11,400 people for fireworks related injuries in 2013; over 200 people visit emergency rooms every day around the Fourth of July due to fireworks accidents. 40% of the injuries are to kids under 15 years of age. Over half of the fireworks-related injuries were to the extremities (especially hands and fingers) and 38% were to the head, including eyes. I remember being in the Emergency Department during residency and saw my first mangled hand from a teen who was holding a bottle rocket in his hand when he lit it. Pretty gross (and devastating to the kid who never regained full functional capability of that hand).
What about sparklers? I have been known to incorporate sparklers and interpretive dance into Independence Day festivities (it’s quite a sight to see…trust me). Did you know that sparklers can reach temperatures of 1,800 degrees? That’s hot enough to melt some metals, not mention what that temperature can do to skin and hair. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, sparklers alone accounted for 41% of the emergency room fireworks injuries in 2013. Despite that, 54% of adults say it’s OK for kids ages 5-10 to play with sparklers/fireworks, significantly more than the amount who say that it’s appropriate for kids this age to:
- Ride a bike down the block without a helmet (19%)
- Light birthday candles (11%)
- Swim with friends without a lifeguard present (7%)
- Ride in a car a short distance without a seatbelt (5%)
- Cook with a stove without adult supervision (4%)
For the record, I am not ok with any of the above for kids 5-10 years of age.
And it’s not only injuries. Fireworks are also responsible for fires. Lots of fires. Far more U.S. fires are reported on Independence Day than on any other day, and fireworks account for 40% of those fires. According to the National Fire Protection Association, fireworks caused an estimated 17,800 reported fires in 2011, including 1,200 total structure fires, 400 vehicle fires, and 16,300 outside and other fires. These fires resulted in an estimated 8 reported civilian deaths, 40 civilian injuries and $32 million in direct property damage.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology nationwide survey, 20% of respondents plan to do their own fireworks, even though over one-third of the respondents know someone who was injured by firework or have been injured themselves. 27% of parents say that children age 11 to 15 should be allowed to handle fireworks. I’m not trying to be the Grinch who Stole Independence Day, but there are some safety considerations if you are going to be doing your own fireworks.
- Buy legal fireworks, and make sure lighting off fireworks is legal in your area.
- Never attempt to relight fireworks that have not gone off. Let them cool down fully, douse them with water, and take the loss.
- Keep a bucket of water and a water hose nearby in case of accidents
- Make sure you light fireworks in a clear area, so you don’t ignite any buildings, or brush or leaves.
- Point fireworks away from people and buildings.
- Don’t hold fireworks in your hand or have any part of your body over them when lighting the fuse
- Do not combine fireworks with alcohol or drugs. They blunt your timing and reflexes, and impair your decision-making ability
Or better yet, leave the fireworks for the professionals.