The Fourth of July holiday is one of the greatest things we get to look forward to each summer. Not only is it a fantastic time to get together with family and friends, but you also get to use all those oohs and ahhs you've been saving up all year — and yes, we mean for the fireworks. Of course, fireworks burn and can emit smoke, flames and sparks or can fly into the air, which brings a certain amount of danger when you're doing them yourself. Here's how to stay safe this holiday season when fireworks are around.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that hospitals treated around 12,900 injuries related to fireworks in 2017, and around 8,700 of those were during the month between June 16th and July 16th. They also reported eight deaths — one of which was related to sparklers (the event happened in Wisconsin when a 4-year-old girl was killed when her father lit a bunch of sparklers in a metal tube). The most frequently injured body parts were hands and fingers (31 percent) followed by the head, face and ears (around 22 percent) according to the CDC report.
Unsurprisingly, burns accounted for over 50 percent of the injuries, and sparklers themselves made up 14 percent of reported injuries per the CDC. While many firework injuries were the result of not using them correctly (for example, holding something in the hand and lighting it), some were malfunctions of the fireworks themselves, including fountains or tubes that tip over after they've been lit.
Leave it to the pros
Of course, the easiest way to stay safe this Fourth of July is to go see a community fireworks display in your area, Dr. Paul Glat, a plastic surgeon and director of the Stuart J. Hulnick Burn Center at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, tells SheKnows. This may be the only option in areas where consumer fireworks are illegal. For example, fireworks are completely illegal in the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, so it's important to check your state, county and city laws before you try your hand at doing your own fireworks show.
Those professionals who get licenses to prepare for and put on a large fireworks display have the training and know-how to make sure everything goes according to plan — and they always have safety in mind as they do it. Professional displays allow you to sit back, relax and enjoy the show.
Control your environment
For those who do their own at home, there are safety precautions that must be put into place. Dr. Dena Nader, an urgent care physician and regional medical director at MedExpress, tells SheKnows that before the first spark is lit, you must make sure your surroundings are ready to go.
"Fireworks require a controlled environment with nothing flammable nearby, like dry leaves or wood," she explains. Also, she says to keep a bucket of water and a garden hose nearby in case something goes wrong, and always store your unused fireworks at a safe distance from where you'll be lighting them.
Read the directions
It can be tempting to just plop something down, light the fuse and back away, but Nader suggests taking a moment to look over the directions (yes, each and every time) to see not only what the item does, but what it will do after it's lit.
Will it sit there and emit sparks? Does it screech or make a loud boom? Does it fly into the air? This will help you decide when — and where — to light your items.
Have an adults-only policy
Also, create an age limit before you get started. Glat says to make an adults-only policy upfront so kids aren't the ones handling lit punks (a smoldering stick used to light fireworks) or bending over an item to light it (or worse yet, standing over a bag of unlit fireworks near spectators with a lit punk in hand).
Hold sparklers away from the body
Sparklers are often given to children because they seem relatively safe, but Glat notes that they burn at an extremely hot temperature — around 2,000 degrees F. After all, it's basically a small flaming torch that shoots sparks out. Instruct the kids (or grown-ups!) who are using them to hold them away from their body, and definitely do not fling them at other people. And as always, stay away from your bag of unlit goodies.
Do not pick up or try to relight a "dud"
Sometimes, fireworks don't do what they're supposed to do — in fact, sometimes, they don't do anything. The fuse ignites and everyone just sits there but nothing happens. Instead of running over to see what went wrong or trying to relight it (or worse yet, picking it up to examine it), Nader has a better suggestion. "If the firework seems to be a dud, you should wait 20 minutes and then soak the firework in a bucket of water — or else an accidental explosion could occur."
Seek medical help if needed
No matter what, if something does go wrong — a burn, a burst eardrum or shrapnel embedded in your body somewhere (yes, that can and does happen) — seek medical help. If you're worried you'll get into trouble because maybe fireworks aren't legal in the city limits and you're doing them anyway, it's far more important to seek help and get your injuries treated.
Overall, it's best to plan to attend a professional display in your area. Many towns and cities across the United States have plans in place for a spectacular night out. You'll be able to ooh and ahh without risking the health of your family — or yourself. But if you do your own fireworks, make sure you prepare well and have water nearby so you don't have to head to the hospital on the Fourth of July.