People enjoy spending Fourth of July outside watching fireworks with their friends and family, but if certain safety precautions are not taken when handling fireworks, one might spend the night in an ambulance headed to the emergency room.
During this Independence Day, multiple people will set off fireworks to celebrate their love for their country, but when one misuses fireworks or acts carelessly, these flaming airshows could be the reason why someone ends up in the hospital. With the possibility of injury and other accidents, one may consider the types of fireworks they buy and how to properly set them off.
In July, according to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission website, close to 280 people get sent to the emergency room with firework-related injuries each day.
Dr. Desirae McKee, hand surgeon at the Texas Tech Physicians Orthopaedic Hand Center, said thousands of firework-related injuries occur in the U.S. each year.
“Anything related to fireworks is going to be considered a type of a burn, so we’re going to get an influx of people with that type of injury,” she said. “Of course, the most commonly injured areas would be the hands.”
First-degree burns to fingers being missing on a hand is the range of injuries McKee said is possible with fireworks. When a person gets burned with fireworks, she said one should call 911, cool down the burn and cover it with material that is clean and dry.
Regarding some causes of firework burns, McKee said people misuse sparklers, which can be over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit or chase after duds, which are malfunctioning fireworks that should not be touched.
Despite the severity of certain firework burns, the healing process may depend on a person’s injury.
“Stiffness is the most common side-effect of a hand or finger injury specifically, and sometimes you can’t ever bend a finger like you used to,” she said. “You can get burn scar contractures, where the burn is tethering the fingers down, or conversely holding them up.”
Years after a patient obtains an injury, McKee said she still does reconstructions and additional skin grafting.
Regardless of hand injuries and burns being common among firework misuse, McKee said the entire body is susceptible to firework-related injuries.
Dr. David McCartney, professor and chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences in the Tech Health Sciences Center, said eye injuries, whether they be concussive injuries or thermal injuries, also are common with the mishandling of fireworks.
“One is concussive injuries, which means something hits the eye,” he said regarding the first category of eye injuries resulting from fireworks. “The second thing is the burning or chemical effect.”
Bottle rockets have enough speed and mass to cause concussive injuries to the eyes or blind someone, McCartney said. Regarding thermal injuries, he said the heat from a roman candle will sear all the stem cells on the surface of the eye that it hits.
“The nature of the deficit it’s going to create in your vision or the function of the eyeball itself really just relates to the severity of the injury,” he said. “The biggest variable there is going to be proximity to the firework itself.”
Within the range of 10 feet, McCartney said any hit to the eye with a firework will be devastating. He said the eyeball is about one inch big and the cornea, the front-wall of the eye, is only half a millimeter thick.
“It’s pretty easy to break it, or to pop it or to cut it,” McCartney said.
When buying or using fireworks, there are different factors one may consider regarding what injuries a person could get. In addition to the possible injuries, one may want to know certain procedures when handling fireworks.
Sonni Menaldi, owner of Wholesale Fireworks, said there are a variety of precautions to consider before lighting fireworks.
“You need to know your location. Of course, it has to be outside city limits,” she said. “You need to be prepared for what the landscape may be like. If it’s really tall grass, you don’t want to shoot there. You really want to be able to have a flat area, preferably on some kind of dirt.”
Having an item to put out possible flames, such as a fire extinguisher, a bag of sand or a case of water, is one step Menaldi said people should take before shooting fireworks. For igniting fireworks, she said one should bring a long-reach lighter to avoid burns that can result from lighting the fuse.
During the ignition, Menaldi said a firework not being properly set on a flat area is the biggest mistake, as an uneven surface can cause a firework to fall on its side.
“Even though it may not result in fire, there may be kids around you, obviously other people,” she said. “That’s the main concern is tipping over if you’re not in a good landscape.”
While buying fireworks, one may consider the types of fireworks that can cause the most harm to a person or damage to the surrounding area.
When using fountain fireworks, Menaldi said there are certain risks when a person is not in the appropriate environment. She said areas with a lot of tall grass are not the best place to shoot off fireworks, especially fountains, as slight sparks can ignite the grass.
“The most popular and the most potential for danger is going to be what they call artillery shells. Some people call them mortars,” she said. “They’re the ones that have a canister that you set on the ground, you drop the mortar, which is the actual flammable part; the firework itself, the fuse comes out of the top, you light it and then it shoots up really high in the air and explodes.”
When one does not know how to handle the mortar and does not set it on a level space, Menaldi said there will be a bigger burst that can cause more harm.
Along with how to operate certain fireworks, considering the regulations of one’s city or town is another precaution one may need to take.
Clinton Thetford, Lubbock County emergency management coordinator, said municipalities within Lubbock County have ordinances that ban the sale and use of fireworks within city limits.
“Outside the city limits, you’re legal to buy or discharge fireworks,” he said. “The only caveat to that is you can’t discharge them from a roadway, nor can you go into the middle of a cotton field without the landowner’s permission and set off fireworks.”
In any situation involving fireworks, Thetford said no children should be allowed to discharge fireworks. He said adult supervision is always required.
“We would encourage people to wear gloves and eye protection,” Thetford said regarding other preparations. “Use them away from people, any structures or other flammable materials.”
In addition to these precautions, Thetford said any large fireworks should be discharged one at a time. He said firework debris should be soaked in water to ensure they do not reignite.
“Make sure that you buy manufactured fireworks,” he said. “The other issue is you want to make sure you’re buying consumer-grade fireworks and not fireworks that would be industrial, like they would use for these large firework shows.”
Despite the possible dangers of fireworks, there are a variety of ways one may ensure his or her safety during any Fourth of July celebrations. Experience may be another factor one considers when discharging fireworks.
“The main thing with fireworks is responsible users,” Menaldi said. “That’s going to be the key.”