It’s hard to get any more American than celebrating Independence Day with fireworks. But with that celebration comes plenty of risk, and Regional One Health’s Firefighters Burn Center wants Memphians to stay safe this July Fourth.

William Hickerson, MD, FACS

The Firefighters Burn Center sees between 650 and 700 patients annually with about 350 admitted. Dr. William Hickerson, MD, medical director of Firefighters Burn Center, said the center usually sees four to five patients come in with burns from fireworks and another four or five with hand injuries related to the explosive nature of fireworks during the holiday.

The best way to avoid becoming a fireworks-related patient of Firefighters Burn Center is to let the professionals handle the fireworks and to instead attend a public display.

“The good news is that these injuries are 100 percent preventable,” Dr. Hickerson said. “The best way to protect your family is to not use fireworks at home – period. The only safe way to enjoy fireworks is to attend an outdoor public display put on by specially trained professionals.”

Not everyone heeds that advice, so Aleisha Curry, BSN, trauma and burn coordinator of community outreach and injury prevention at Regional One Health, also stresses safe ways to handle fireworks.

“One of the big things I talk to people about with fireworks safety, and it’s something they don’t always want to hear, but the best suggestion is not to use fireworks and instead attend a public display,” she said. “However, if you were to handle fireworks make sure you handle them safely.”

She said people should only use new fireworks that are in good condition to minimize the chance of malfunction. Other fireworks safety tips include:

  • Don’t hold lit fireworks, including Roman candles and bottle rockets
  • Don’t allow children to shoot fireworks unsupervised
  • Ensure there is a water source nearby
  • Don’t shoot fireworks near an accelerant such as gasoline, paint thinner or other related items typically found in a garage or outdoor storage shed
  • Wear closed-toe shoes to protect feet from burning
  • Don’t mix alcohol consumption with shooting fireworks

Another important tip is to avoid what many people consider the “safe” firework for children, which actually is among the most dangerous.

Twirling sparklers is a pretty common childhood activity during July Fourth celebrations. But a stick of fire burning up to 1,800 degrees can be dangerous. In fact, it causes more injuries than any other fireworks, some 24 percent of injuries during the one-month July Fourth period in 2015, the most recent year data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission are available. Sparklers cause more injuries than other fireworks in children up to age 14.

U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 11,900 people for fireworks-related injuries in 2015, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Children younger than 15 accounted for 26 percent of those injuries. There were 1,900 injuries associated with sparklers and 800 with bottle rockets.

“Sparklers produce sparkles that can cause eye injuries or catch surrounding objects on fire,” Dr. Hickerson said. “Once it quits sparkling, it stays hot for quite a while and can cause a burn if a child picks it up.”

“Kids see it as not being fire so they’re not as safe with it,” Curry added. “They’ll move it around and toward their friends. They don’t see it as real fire so they’re not as careful with it.”

Curry’s safety advice for sparkler use includes only hold one at a time, the person handling it should light it, keep five to seven feet from other people and keep arms stretched out while it’s lit.