Celebrate Safely This Independence Day
From Memorial Day through Labor Day, summer celebrations offer plenty of excuses to light up the night sky. From fireworks at wedding receptions and Independence Day celebrations to graduation bonfires and simple sparklers at weekend cookouts, Americans love playing with fire.
The trick is to do so safely.
In 2014, the most recent year for which data was available, U.S. hospital emergency departments saw an estimated 10,500 people for fireworks-related injuries, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Dr. Cassiopeia Roychowdhury, a family medicine physician at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, said the most common injuries from fireworks are burns to the hands and arms from mishandling.
“It’s important to take practical safety measures such as following directions on the fireworks themselves and standing far enough away when you are setting them off,” she said.
Attending a public display of fireworks is the safest way to celebrate. There are many free displays in the DMV.
It is not just big fireworks that cause the problems, too. Nearly one-third of the injuries are caused by sparklers, which are often given to people of all ages.
“Be mindful of who is going to be around the fireworks,” she said.
Roychowdhury cautions to always protect your hands and face when setting off fireworks and to use them only with experienced people. Check your surroundings, too, to ensure there aren’t groups of people nearby who could be in harm’s way.
If you use fireworks at home:
- Consider using glow sticks instead of sparklers: They are much safer and give the same impression, and you are going to avoid burn injuries.
- Have safety equipment around to put fires out and keep water nearby to extinguish fireworks after use.
- Keep a safe distance from fireworks and wear sunglasses or protective eyewear when lighting them.
- Water (or ideally, saline) should be on hand for potential injuries. It is a good time to look at your home first aid kit.
- Make sure the fireworks you use are legal in your area.
Know the law
In Washington, D.C., any fireworks or firecrackers that explode — such as cherry bombs, roman candles or floral shells — are illegal. In Maryland, Montgomery County outlaws possessing or discharging any fireworks, including gold label sparklers. Snap-and-pop noise makers, snakes and party poppers are the only exception to the law. In Prince George’s County, it is illegal to manufacture, possess, store, offer for sale, sell, discharge, use, burn or explode any fireworks, except at an authorized display by a licensed pyrotechnic professional. Across the border in Virginia, Alexandria prohibits any person to store, offer for sale, expose for sale, sell at retail, use or explode any fireworks (including sparklers) within the city limits. In Arlington County, fireworks that are projectiles, explode, emit flames or sparks to a distance greater than 12 feet are prohibited. Fairfax County prohibits any firework that explodes, emits a flame or sparks higher than 12 feet, or performs as a projectile. In Falls Church, all consumer fireworks are illegal, including firecrackers, torpedoes, skyrockets, Roman candles, sparklers or other devices of like construction and any/or other devices containing any explosive or flammable compound.
Weddings, parties and holiday celebrations are just some of the many occasions that include fireworks. They are also when people are more likely to be consuming alcohol.
“Make sure anyone using fireworks is sober and has their wits about them,” she said. “You want to be smart about it.”
If an accident does occur…
If an injury occurs, get yourself or the injured party away from any danger.
- Remove anything that continues to burn. If your clothes are on fire, get the fire out and clothes off.
- Remove any debris that is still hot, if possible.
- For an eye injury, flush the eye with saline or water. If you have contacts, take them out to prevent additional injury from the contact lens melting.
- Apply pressure to stop any bleeding and seek medical attention.
If you or someone else does get hurt, you can treat superficial burns with no skin breakage topically with aloe and by taking medicine for pain control.
“The burn itself is a problem, but it can very easily become infected, so it should be monitored closely,” Roychowdhury said.
Such burns should be checked to ensure they don’t worsen or become infected. She recommends keeping the wound clean using sterile water and paying attention to increased warmth or redness at the burn site. If you get a burn that involves bleeding, drainage or breakage of the skin, which could signal an infection – or if the burn is to the face, abdomen or genitals – she recommends going directly to a hospital emergency department.
Article by Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center