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How serious can fireworks injuries be?

Our burn surgeon explains, and gives his top tips for staying safe

June 29, 2017

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Fireworks on the 4th of July are as traditional as the cookouts and parades. Many oohs and ahhs come from watching them. But setting them off can be very dangerous.

Thousands of fireworks injuries are treated in hospital emergency departments every year across the United States. These injuries can cause permanent damage to the eyes, hands and face. And they’re caused by both fireworks that shoot up into the air as well as ones that stay on the ground.

Burns are the most common type of injury when it comes to fireworks. The heat from a single sparkler can reach 2,000 degrees. That’s hotter than a blow torch.

“Most burn injuries from fireworks occur in the week surrounding Independence Day,” said surgeon William Mohr, MD, who works in The Burn Center at Regions Hospital. “And in the last 5 to 6 years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of kids being injured because they’re holding multiple sparklers.”

Rather than taking the risk, Dr. Mohr asks that parents consider safer options for their children, like glow sticks, confetti poppers or colored streamers. And he urges the entire family to grab a blanket and a patch of lawn, kick back and let the experts handle the show.

“Half an inch in and toward the center portion of his heart and he would not be here.”

Each year, Dr. Mohr himself treats close to 25 fireworks-related injuries. Nick Beheng was one of his patients in 2012. While setting off a firecracker, Nick lost part of his thumb and had severe damage done to his chest and internal organs, including his heart, lung and liver.

Safety tips for if you do choose to use fireworks

If fireworks are legal to buy where you live and you decide to use them, be sure to:

  • Never ignite devices in a container.
  • Light one firework at a time and move away quickly.
  • Never light fireworks indoors.
  • Never light fireworks while consuming alcohol.

For the safety of everyone:

  • Have a designated, sober adult light fireworks.
  • Keep children and other observers at a safe distance. This means at least 5 feet away from sparklers; at least 20 feet away from fountain-style displays that don’t leave the ground; and at least 40 feet away from the site where fireworks that shoot into the air are launched.
  • Only light fireworks if there are no houses or flammable materials (like other fireworks) nearby.
  • Keep a bucket of water close to fully extinguish fireworks.

Once the fun is over:

  • Do not try to re-light or handle malfunctioning fireworks.
  • Soak unused or wasted fireworks in water for a few hours before discarding.
  • Dispose of unused fireworks, or securely store them, lighters and matches out of the reach of children.

If a burn injury does occur, cool the skin with cool, not cold, water to stop the burning process. Cover the area with a dry, clean sheet or loose bandages. And seek medical attention.

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