While fireworks of any kind are banned in New Jersey, they still account for thousands of injuries and emergency department visits every year around the 4th of July. “Unfortunately, we see a large number of preventable injuries this time of the year,” says William Dalsey, M.D., Chairman of the Emergency Department at Kimball Medical Center in Lakewood. “Many of these injuries, especially those associated with children, are the result of firework use.”
According to 2005 estimates from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), fireworks and other celebratory combustion or explosive devices killed 4 people and resulted in nearly 11,000 injuries requiring hospital treatment. Nearly half of those injured by fireworks are children under the age of 15, and many victims are innocent bystanders, rather than the person lighting the fuse.
“Injury from fireworks can be very serious and sometimes even fatal,” says Dalsey. “Injuries of the hands, fingers, eyes, face, legs, arms, feet and back are common, and can include dangerous burns, lacerations, abrasions, punctures, fractures and contusions,” he adds.
For many people, Fourth of July festivities aren’t complete without a few sparklers or a big, brilliant fireworks display. But if you don’t leave the explosives to the professionals, you’re literally playing with fire.
Sparklers are particularly dangerous because many people think of them as harmless fireworks that children can use. In fact, according to the CPSC, sparklers burn at temperatures up to 1800°F – hot enough to melt gold. They can potentially catch clothes or hair on fire, and are one of the leading causes of all firework-related injuries requiring trips to the emergency room.
Bottle rockets, another favorite of July 4th revelers, are the most frequent cause of serious or permanent eye injury requiring hospitalization, according to the U.S. Eye Injury Registry. Innocent bystanders are often at risk from bottle rockets, which are unpredictable, and their flight path erratic. This firework often causes eye injury from flying debris when it explodes.
Dr. Dalsey cautions that all fireworks are potentially dangerous and that there is no safe way for nonprofessionals to use them. “Your safest bet is to leave the fireworks to the professionals and enjoy the display from a safe distance,” he advises. “And never allow children to handle fireworks or sparklers. Never,” he adds.
While you may steer clear of non-professional fireworks, even professional displays can result in mishaps from defective firecrackers, premature or delayed explosions, errant flight paths, or unexpected gusts of wind that can topple fireworks and spew sparks, ash or debris over the crowd.
If you are or your child is injured during a fireworks display, remain calm, and keep your child as calm as possible. If your clothes catch on fire, remember ‘stop, drop and roll’ lie on the ground, cover your face with your hands, and roll to put out the flames. Make sure your child knows how to do this. Seek medical help for burns.
If an eye injury occurs from a fireworks explosion, do not rub, rinse or self-medicate the eye. Seek medical help immediately, even if the injury seems mild.
“Minor abrasions and minor first-degree burns – where the skin is reddened – or small second-degree burns – where the area affected is no larger than two inches in diameter, can be cared for at home,” says Dalsey.
He recommends washing minor abrasions with an antibacterial soap and water, applying an antibiotic ointment and covering the area with a sterile bandage.
“For minor burns, cooling the affected area under running water for 15 to 20 minutes can help to reduce pain,” he says. “Applying a lotion or moisturizer can soothe the area. Never apply butter, which holds the heat in the tissues and can cause additional damage. Cover the area with a loosely wrapped sterile gauze bandage. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help to alleviate pain,” he says. “Never break blisters on burn areas. If a blister breaks on its own,” he says, “wash the area with an antibacterial soap and water, apply antibiotic ointment and cover with a bandage,” he adds.
Firework displays are meant to be enjoyed, but you’ll have more fun knowing your family is safe. Take extra precautions this Fourth of July and your holiday will be a blast! TLS.