Fireworks, cookouts and the 4th of July go together like Memphis and BBQ – but even when something is a match made in heaven, it needs to be treated with responsibility.
Every year, Regional One Health’s Firefighters Burn Center, the only full-service burn center in a 150-mile radius, sees over 500 patients, including several victims of burns and hand injuries caused by amateur fireworks displays on the 4th of July. Add to that the patients they treat after mishaps with cooking out, and it’s no surprise they’re reaching out with some holiday safety tips.
Fireworks pose some of the most serious risks, as they cause both burns and explosive injuries. Robert Mabe, NRP, FP-C, EMSI, trauma & burn outreach coordinator at Regional One Health, strongly urges the public to follow the advice of the National Fire Protection Association: stay away from do-it-yourself fireworks shows.
According to the NFPA, “Each July 4th, thousands of people are injured while using consumer fireworks. Despite the dangers of fireworks, few people understand the associated risks – devastating burns, other injuries, fires and even death. If you want to see fireworks, go to a public show put on by experts – do not use consumer fireworks.”
Mabe shared some alarming NFPA statistics:
- Fireworks cause 18,500 fires every year, and two in five are on the 4th of July. That total includes 1,300 structure fires, 300 vehicle fires and 16,900 outdoor or other fires.
- The total property damage from fireworks-induced fires is $43 million annually.
- Hospitals treat around 13,000 fireworks injuries annually. Most are to the hand or fingers (31 percent); head, face or ear (22 percent); or leg (17 percent). Eye injuries account for 14 percent.
- 70 percent of those injured are male.
- Over one-third of the victims are kids age 14 and under, and children age 5-9 are more than twice as likely as other age groups to be injured by fireworks.
“The good news is that these injuries are 100 percent preventable,” said William Hickerson, MD, Medical Director at the Firefighters Burn Center.
“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.”
Experts note amateur pyrotechnics are especially dangerous with kids around, or if alcohol is part of the celebration. Fireworks can malfunction, putting the user at risk if they try to relight the device or don’t move away from it quickly enough. Also, the trajectory of fireworks is unpredictable, meaning even somebody who thinks they’re setting them off far enough away from structures and other people could still be creating a dangerous situation.
Dr. Hickerson added the product most commonly used by kids – sparklers – is actually one of the most dangerous. “Sparklers burn at 1800 degrees Fahrenheit and produce sparkles that can cause eye injuries or catch surrounding objects on fire,” he said. “Furthermore, once it quits sparkling, it stays hot for quite a while and can cause a burn if a child picks it up.”
While you should definitely let the pros handle your July 4 fireworks, grilling out at home is far from a no-no – but there are still some precautions to take. Before your mouth starts watering over those burgers and hotdogs, check out these safety tips:
- Before using a grill, check the connection between the propane tank and the fuel line. Make sure the tubes where the air and gas mix are not blocked.
- Do not overfill the propane tank.
- Do not wear loose clothing while cooking.
- Be careful when using lighter fluid. Do not add fluid to an already lit fire because the flame can flash back up into the container and explode.
- Keep all matches and lighters away from children. Teach your children to report loose matches or lighters to an adult immediately.
- Supervise children around outdoor grills.
- Dispose of hot coals properly: douse them with plenty of water, and stir them to ensure the fire is out. Never place them in plastic, paper or wooden containers.
- Never grill/barbecue in enclosed areas as carbon monoxide could be produced.
Burn injuries can happen in a matter of seconds, and can prove fatal or life-altering. The team at the Firefighters Burn Center encourages everyone to put safety first not only on the 4th of July, but throughout the summer and the rest of the year.