How to stay out of the ER during fireworks season

Ah, the sounds of summer. Hot dogs sizzling on a grill. Sprinklers gently watering a well-manicured lawn. An M-80 firecracker exploding prematurely in your hand.

Fireworks: People love them. Dogs and cats? Not so much. As the Fourth of July nears, many people choose to celebrate our independence by shooting off their own pyrotechnics. Fireworks can be loads of fun, but it’s easy to forget they can also be a ton of dangerous.

“Setting off fireworks is an enjoyable activity the whole family can enjoy, especially during such a festive time of the year,” says Benjamin Trotter, DO, an emergency care specialist at Adena. “Unfortunately, accidents are more likely when you mix fireworks with intoxication.”

Those pinwheels can be painful

According to the National Safety Council, an average of 12,000 people are injured badly enough by fireworks every year to require emergency medical attention. Granted, most of these incidents were due to amateurs attempting to use professional-grade, homemade or other illegal fireworks or explosives. But 10% of those injuries were from less powerful pieces like firecrackers and sparklers being used by children and young adults under the age of 20.

Worse yet, fireworks start an average of 18,500 fires each year.

Lighting the fuse to injury

It’s no secret: fireworks are dangerous. They can cause serious, long-term injuries if you aren’t careful. These can include:

  • Hand burns – Minor burns can cause redness and pain, but more serious ones cause blisters and damage under the skin.
  • Eye injuries – An exploding firework sends debris into the air at high velocities, which can cause burns or even permanent blindness.
  • Fractures – Fireworks can also cause deep cuts, torn tendons and broken bones.
  • Loss of fingers – Severe hand injuries can cause a loss of a finger or thumb.
  • Hearing loss – Noise louder than 85 decibels can damage your hearing. The average firework going off within three feet of your face is 150 decibels or higher.

Sparklers aren’t for kids

Sparklers burn at about 2,000 degrees. That’s hot enough to melt metal. Sparklers can easily ignite clothing and seriously burn legs and feet if dropped. If you are concerned about your child’s safety, consider an alternative such as glow sticks, confetti poppers or confetti streamers.

The dangers can be deceiving

When we say fireworks are dangerous, we’re talking about ALL fireworks. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, emergency departments treat injuries for even the “tamest” of fireworks. Here is a breakdown of injuries by firework type:

  • 12% - Sparklers
  • 11% - Firecrackers
  • 6% - Roman candles
  • 5% - Bottle rockets
  • 3% - Novelties
  • 2% - Reloadable shells
  • 2% - Public displays
  • 1% - Homemade fireworks

Don’t try this at home

When it comes to fireworks, the best advice is to leave it to the professionals. Grab a blanket, kick back and enjoy a public fireworks display.

But, if your idea of a celebration is to have a private show in your own backyard, Dr. Trotter recommends these safety tips to help you use your head to avoid losing a hand:

  • Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire and douse used fireworks before throwing them away
  • Soak both used and unused fireworks in water for a few hours before throwing them away
  • Wear earplugs or other hearing protection (including nearby young children)
  • Wear protective eyewear
  • Don’t let children handle fireworks
  • Don’t use fireworks if you are intoxicated
  • Have a designated person set off fireworks
  • Older children should only use fireworks under close adult supervision
  • Never hold lighted fireworks in your hands
  • Never use any type of firework (including sparklers) indoors
  • Never point or throw fireworks at other people
  • Only light one firework at a time and maintain a safe distance after lighting
  • Never ignite a firework inside a container
  • Do not try to re-light or handle duds
  • Try not to set off anything near buildings or dry areas (such as barns or wooded areas)

Enjoy the BOOM!

Fireworks were made to be enjoyed. They were also made to be used safely. According to Dr. Trotter, who sees most fireworks injuries in the Adena Emergency Department from July 1 through July 15, a little common sense can go a long way for a successful holiday.

“You can enjoy fireworks, but you have to practice safety,” he says. “A little extra protection will far outweigh the risks.”