Be Careful with Fireworks This 4th of July
Nothing says summer like the Fourth of July, and nothing says “Happy Independence Day!” like fireworks.
Unfortunately, many Americans take it upon themselves to keep up the tradition rather than leave the aerial pyrotechnics to the professionals, and that choice leads to thousands of avoidable injuries every year.
“There are thousands of visits related to fireworks injuries over the holiday weekend across the nation and we will unfortunately see patients in our emergency department, as well,” said Dr. Chris DeFlitch of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
Deaths up 50% in 2020
A new report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found a 50% increase in deaths and injuries from fireworks-related incidents in 2020, compared to 2019. At least 18 people died from fireworks-related incidents in 2020, compared to 12 reported the previous year.
About 15,600 people were treated in hospital emergency departments for fireworks injuries in 2020, up from about 10,000 ER-treated fireworks injuries in 2019. Other important highlights from CPSC’s report:
- Of the 18 deaths, eight of the victims (44%) had used alcohol or drugs prior to the incident.
- Most fireworks-related injuries (about 66%) occurred in the month surrounding the July 4th holiday.
- Severe injuries related to fireworks increased in 2020. More people were admitted to the hospital or were transferred to another hospital for treatment due to severe fireworks injuries in 2020 (21%) versus 2019 (12%).
- Young adults ages 20-24 saw the biggest spike in visits to emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries, compared to any age group last year, 17 injuries per 100,000 people in 2020 versus 2.8 per 100,000 people in 2019.
- Firecrackers were the biggest source of ER-treated fireworks injuries (1,600), followed by sparklers (900).
- The parts of the body most often injured were hands and fingers, at 30%. The head, face and ears were the second most injured body parts, at 22%. Eye injuries were third at 15%.
- Burns were the most common fireworks-related, emergency room-treated injury, at 44%.
If you use fireworks, take precautions
According to DeFlitch, many of those injures are avoidable with proper preparation. “The biggest thing is common sense,” he said. “Don’t use alcohol while you’re using fireworks at home, and don’t put yourself or your family at risk.”
If you use fireworks at home:
- Consider using glow sticks instead of sparklers: “They’re much safer and give the same impression,” DeFlitch said. “And you’re 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.
Even with these tips in mind, DeFlitch encourages people to reconsider use of fireworks and aerial explosives at home. “If you actually need to consider first aid supplies as part of your celebration, it might be a sign that you should leave it to the pros,” DeFlitch said.
Some of the fireworks injuries seen in the emergency room include burns, with many caused by sparklers. DeFlitch said this is because of how commonly they are used and the intense heat that they emit. Hand injuries from holding exploding fireworks are also common, along with alcohol-related injuries. Eye injuries are occasionally seen when debris from fireworks lands in people’s eyes.
Children and young adults make up the majority of the patients visiting the nation’s hospitals for firework injuries. DeFlitch believes this is because children are more adventurous, while the young adults are often involved in alcohol-related injuries with fireworks.
If you are injured
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 with contact lens melting.
- Apply pressure to stop any bleeding and seek medical attention.
Scott Gilbert of Penn State Health contributed to this report.
Editor-in-Chief Mark Heckathorn is a journalist, movie buff and foodie. He oversees DC on Heels editorial operations as well as strategic planning and staff development. Reach him with story ideas or suggestions at dcoheditor (at) gmail (dot) com.